Nanoparticles target drugs direct to cell's 'powerhouse'

Nanoparticles developed at the University of Georgia have potential to deliver drugs straight to the mitochondria, the part of the cell that generates energy and is often described as its "powerhouse." A range of drugs for diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's and obesity act on the mitochondria, and delivering these directly to their targets could make them more effective.

The researchers created nanoparticles of vitamin E or lonidamine, an anti-cancer drug that inhibits energy production in the mitochondria, wrapped around with a biodegradable, FDA-approved polymer. To get them through the mitochondrial membranes, the particles had to be a very specific size--64-80 nanometers, which is about a thousandth of the width of a human hair.

The mitochondria-targeting nanoparticles increased the effectiveness of the drug a hundredfold compared with the drug alone in cancer cells, and fivefold compared with particles that target the outside of the cell. In further lab studies, the nanoparticles also improved the efficacy of drugs that act on mitochondria in Alzheimer's disease and obesity. The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the particles are currently being studied in animals.

"A lot of diseases are associated with dysfunctional mitochondria, but many of the drugs that act on the mitochondria can't get there," said UGA author Sean Marrache. "Rather than try to alter the drugs, which can reduce their effectiveness, we encapsulate them in these nanoparticles and precisely deliver them to the mitochondria."

- read the press release
- see the abstract