'Green' nanoparticles get drugs across blood-brain barrier

Vexed by the challenge of getting treatments across the blood-brain barrier? Why not take a cue from the body's natural delivery method?

That's what researchers at the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital have done--and with encouraging results. The scientists took clathrin--an abundant protein in plants, animals and people--and modified it to work with nanoparticles. Clathrin is commonly used in natural processes to deliver various molecules into cells, and, piggybacking on that, the researchers figured the protein could help guide man-made particles to their targets.

In a study published this month in PLoS One​, the researchers touted the results of an in vivo test, finding the clathrin-directed nanoparticles were able to cross the blood-brain barrier noninvasively. The development could be beneficial both for drug developers trying to get treatments into the brain and for imagists who want to improve MRI performance, said Gordana Vitaliano, director of the Brain Imaging NanoTechnology Group at the McLean Hospital Imaging Center.

"Clathrin has never been modified for use in vivo and offers many new and interesting possibilities for delivering drugs and medical imaging agents into the brain," Vitaliano said in a release. "This study provides a new insight into utilizing bioengineered clathrin protein as a novel nanoplatform that passes the blood-brain barrier."

The researchers point out that clathrin's inherent biocompatibility--it's naturally occurring, after all--could make it favorable to other blood-brain transport methods, including nanogels, liposomes and the dendrimers used in recent research from NIH.

- read McLean's release
- check out the study in PLoS One