'Smart' nanotech may help treat Type 1 diabetes

Boston-based researchers may have figured out how to develop and use "smart" nanotherapeutics to treat patients with Type 1 diabetes.

In their in vitro work, scientists from Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering used their "unique homing peptide molecule" to make nanoparticles, which in turn were programmed to deliver targeted, concentrated drugs to specific pancreas cells.

The researchers found that their "smart" nanoparticles sought out and latched onto capillary blood vessels in the islet of the pancreas. This is important, because during the onset of the disease, the insulin-producing cells fed by those blood vessels are at high risk for damage. The tests revealed that the drug delivery method increased drug efficacy by 200 times. As well, scientists found that the nanomaterials helped protect the drugs as they reached their source, concentrating them in the most effective areas.

Type 1 diabetes hits children and young adults, and is in serious need of a more targeted treatment with fewer side effects. The disease is lethal, as it involves the immune system destroying insulin-producing cells in the pancreas over time. Insulin treatments help for some, but patients over time can face kidney failure and blindness as the diabetes worsens. And not every patient benefits from treatment. As the researchers note, high-risk patients often can't pursue existing treatments because they need higher doses, which can lead to severe side effects and worsening health pretty rapidly.

What is key here, too, is that if the drug delivery method makes the drug more effective, that means smaller doses would be needed to produce the same result. That, in turn, can reduce toxicity and related side effects, and maybe even be cheaper, the researchers point out. And the finding could ultimately prove valuable to Big Pharma as companies such as Novartis ($NVS), Sanofi ($SNY) and others seek to develop or acquire more effective diabetes treatments. And while researchers envision their finding eventually helping the millions of patients who suffer from Type 1 diabetes, they caution that their work is at a very early stage and "significant additional testing and development" will be necessary before they're ready for the clinic. We agree.

- here's the release

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