Feeling old? Nanoparticles could help

Spanish researchers have developed an "intelligent nanodevice" that could target diseases linked with advancing years by delivering drugs specifically in senescent (aging) cells. Potential applications include treating diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, or Parkinson's disease.

The drug-delivering nanoparticles are tiny porous specks of silica. The pores are filled with the drug and then the nanoparticles are wrapped in a coating of a galacto-oligosaccharide, a small sugar molecule, trapping the drug. Inside the aging cells, a biomarker, called senescence-associated β-galactosidase (SA-β-gal), breaks down this coating and releases the cargo.

In a preclinical study of cells isolated from people with the accelerated aging syndrome dyskeratosis congenital, the contents of the particles are released in the aging cells and not in the normal cells. A group of Spanish institutions carried out the research, published in Angewandte Chemie.

The technology could also have potential in diseases in young patients where the tissues age prematurely, such as accelerated aging disorders (progeria), or aplastic anemia; or diseases that affect adults, including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis or liver cirrhosis. On a less solemn note, but still addressing a major market, the system could also have potential in cosmetics, delivering anti-aging or anti-wrinkle ingredients, protecting the skin from ultraviolet light, or treating hair loss. Whichever route, the next step will be to carry out animal studies.

"As far as we know, this is the first time that a nanotherapy for senescent cells has been described. Although there is still far to go from these results to the possible elimination of senescent cells or rejuvenation therapies, we believe that our research may open new paths for developing therapies for the treatment of age-related diseases," says Ramón Martínez Máñez, one of the research team members, based at the Universitat Politècnica de València.

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- see the abstract