Last week, I wrote that the increased attention to biological drugs, which are mostly taken through injections, was spurring interest in needle-free and implantable delivery methods for vaccines. Research into alternative delivery methods for vaccines could produce innovative ways of delivering other kinds of drugs as well, and I recently read about an inspired idea that a team of Boston researchers had for delivering intermittent doses of drugs.
The team encapsulated a drug in a specially engineered membrane that included magnetite nanoparticles. If you’re not up on your rocks, magnetite is a mineral that has magnetic properties. When a magnetic field is turned on outside the patient’s body, the magnetite nanoparticles heat up and collapse some of the gels in the membrane. This structural change opens pores that allows the drug to be delivered into the body within about one or two minutes. When the magnetic field is turned off, the nanoparticles cool, the gels reeexpand, and drug delivery is halted.
Aside from being totally cool, this drug-delivery method has several advantages. For starters, it doesn’t require any electronics to be implanted in the patient’s body. The membranes have not shown any toxicity or immunogenicity in studies. The gels would not collapse under normal body temperatures, or even fevers. And the method could potentially provide precise, repeated, long-term delivery of drugs on demand. It could be a good system for drugs that manage chronic pain, for example.
The magnetite-nanoparticle system is not yet ready for use in humans, but the research shows how ingenious and exciting some of the current research in drug-delivery methods already is. If funding for drug development stays at its current increased level, we might be seeing more fascinating delivery methods in the laboratory and, later, in hospitals and pharmacies.