Origami inspires 3-D folded structures for drug delivery

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania pulled in a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation for their origami-based folding of materials at the nano scale with potential uses in drug delivery.

In collaboration with scientists at Cornell University, the team has designed a method by which to fold and cut materials--as small as nanoparticles for drug delivery--that assemble themselves as rigid three-dimensional structures, according to a UPenn report. The NSF's Division of Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation took an interest, financing the project through its ODISSEI program, or Origami Design for the Integration of Self-Assembling Systems for Engineering Innovation.

By manipulating the molecules within a tiny structure, the engineers used the art of paper folding as inspiration for a technique to manipulate liquid crystals to form different shapes, thus far patterns of divots or bumps. As the concept evolves, though, they hope to create everything from drug-delivery vehicles with specific shapes to up-scaled, self-assembling shelters for human use.

"We want to demonstrate the concept in the macroscale," researcher Shu Yang said in a statement, "but once we have a grasp on how the theory and experiment work together--where to introduce cuts and folds--we'll shrink it down to the nanoscale."

"The thing that's cool about geometry is that the Pythagorean theorem works the same for big triangles and little triangles," said lead researcher Randall Kamien. "We can build something out of paper, or we can build the same structure much smaller, working with molecules, or much bigger with cloth or metal."

- here's the UPenn report

Special Report: The Future of Nanotech Drug Delivery