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MIT Engineers Build Nanoparticles To Safely Enter Cells

by Editor1 last modified July 10, 2008 - 12:15

A multi-discipline MIT research team has successfully engineered and built man-made nanoparticles that can penetrate a cell without ripping a hole in its membrane – and killing it. The discovery could open new horizons in the emerging sector of nanoscale drug delivery.

MIT Engineers Build Nanoparticles To Safely Enter Cells

A multi-discipline MIT research team has successfully engineered and built man-made nanoparticles that can penetrate a cell without ripping a hole in its membrane – and killing it. The discovery could open new horizons in the emerging sector of nanoscale drug delivery.

The MIT team used gold nanoparticles coated with alternating bands of two different kinds of specialized molecules will pass easily into cells without harming them. In comparison, the team found that the same gold nanoparticles randomly coated with the exact same materials will not pass through.

Co-leader of the work, Darrell Irvine, MIT’s Eugene Bell Career Development Associate Professor of Tissue Engineering, described the work this way:

"If you have a soap film and you poke it with a bubble wand, you'll pop it," he said. "But if you coat the bubble wand with soap before poking the film, it will pass through the film without popping it because it's coated with the same material." Stellacci notes that the coated nanoparticles have properties similar to the cell membrane--not identical--but the analogy is still apt.

"We've created the first fully synthetic material that can pass through a cell membrane without rupturing it, and we've found that order on the nanometer scale is necessary to provide this property," said the work’s other co-leader Francesco Stellacci, an MIT associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

The research was reported in a recent advance online publication of Nature Materials. Stellacci and Irvine's coauthors are Ayush Verma, Oktay Uzun, Ying Hu and Suelin Chen – all from MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE); Yuhua Hu of MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering; Hee-Sun Han of MIT’s Department of Chemistry, and Nicky Watson of MIT’s Department of Biology.

Despite the exciting discovery, Irvine added much more needs to be investigated. "No one understands how these biologically derived cell-penetrating materials work," said Irvine. "So we could use the new particles to learn more about their biological counterparts.”

The research was funded in part by the NSF, the NIH and the Packard Foundation.