Rescuing drugs with nanotechnology


Drugs fail a lot. With fewer than 1 in 10 drugs that reach clinical trials successfully entering the market, enormous amounts of time, money and effort are wasted. From development to post market surveillance, the most common reason for drug discontinuation is cardiac toxicity. Drugs can interfere with special potassium channels that are essential for a normal heart beat. By blocking these channels the heart’s electrical cycle is slowed, termed QT prolongation, and this is associated with life-threatening arrhythmias.

In a recent research article published in the Journal of Nanobiotechnology, Vishwanatha and colleagues (University of North Texas, USA) have been working to find a way to rescue these failed, but otherwise safe, drugs by shielding them in nanoparticles. This shield, made up of tiny fat particles, surrounds the drug, preventing interaction with the channel and therefore cardiac toxicity.

The method was tested on curcumin, a potential anti-cancer drug component with great promise. Found in turmeric, this curry spice is well-known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, but poor absorption within the body and QT prolongation prevent its clinical use.

In the lab, the packaged curcumin was found to be biologically active, without the limitations of cardiac toxicity or bioavailability. The next step for this research would be testing in animal models. Nanoparticle coats have been used in previous research to bypass bioavailability issues, however, this study is one of the first to protect against curcumin’s QT prolongation at therapeutic concentrations.

Rescuing pharmacologically potent yet cardiotoxic drugs not only has large clinical benefit but it also requires far less money and time than new drug development. This latest article is yet another example of how Nanobiotechnology could help us to do this.

The Journal of Nanobiotechnology is an open access, peer-reviewed, online journal communicating scientific and technological advances in the fields of medicine and biology, with an emphasis in their interface with nanoscale sciences. The journal will receive its first official Impact Factor this year.

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