Researchers develop 'smart' nanostructures for drug delivery

Scientists at Johns Hopkins and Brown Universities are developing tiny, self-assembling nanostructures that can break apart on their own, and the goal is to deliver drugs to inflamed sites without affecting the rest of the body. The particles begin as flattened out dodecahedra, folding up into nanocasings when heated.

With support from the National Science Foundation, the process began with Brown mathematician Govind Menon, PBS NewsHour reports, whose team designed the ideal shapes by testing out the more than 43,000 ways to fold a dodecahedron, rooting out the one that best folds into a tight container. Then, David Gracias and his team at JHU got involved, building the flattened shapes with redepositive material at their edges, allowing them to bind together when they fold up.

In the end, the nanoboxes are capable of aligning themselves at precise angles, mimicking a level of exactness that would normally require some kind of human intervention in a process that Gracias said is revolutionary.

"There is a need in medicine to create particles that are smart and that can target specific tumors or a specific disease site without delivering drugs to the rest of the body, which limits side effects," Gracias said. And the nanostructures will ideally do just that, all while automating the construction and deconstruction process.

Furthermore, the casings can be made with any material--metals, semiconductors or biodegradable polymers--allowing for targeted delivery that leaves no trace in the body.

- see the story at the NSF website
- check out the video report from PBS NewsHour