Nanomed lifetime is an important aspect of delivery potential, scientists say

Nanomachines, those tiny programmable particles that have shown in tests to deliver drugs successfully, are now part of an ongoing study at Columbia University designed to discover their degradation over time. This factor is especially important in the delivery field, giving drugs a leg up as they bring treatments where they need to be.

The optimism that surrounds the field of nanotechnology as it relates to medicine and drug delivery is, at this point, largely centered around laboratory tests. But the team from Columbia put drug nanoshuttles through a study that found their delivery mechanisms less like a finely tuned Ferrari and more like a quickly degrading clunker.

"Our nanoshuttle degraded just like a car that falls apart after a few hundred thousand miles of driving--except that, for our molecular shuttle, the equivalent to a hundred thousand miles turns out to be a millimeter," lead author Henry Hess said in a statement.

The study found in vitro that the mechanical activity of nanoparticles wears down over time, like most things. In terms of drug delivery, the breakdown of these processes can have undesirable consequences that don't exactly become apparent in initial tests. At the same time, some delivery vehicles are designed to break down so that they become innocuous after delivering their payloads. It's all about hitting a balance, the Columbia scientists say.

This study brought to light these shortcomings with the ultimate goal of making the nanoshuttles more resilient in the future.

The team published its findings in the journal Nature Nanotechnology this week in an advance issue.

"Our study has shown that wear is an important issue which has to be considered in the design of nanomachines," Hess said. "And it's clear that a better understanding of nanoengineering will help us to better understand aging and degeneration in biological systems."

- here's the release