Nanoparticles revolutionazed the way of delivering drugs
JPA/DICYT Biotechnology applied to the improvement of health and food has been the main issue on the third day of BIO.IBEROAMÉRICA 2016. Integrando Continentes', which is being held in Salamanca. In particular, new and more efficient forms of drugs delivery has been one of the more relevant topics of this scientific meeting.
Jesus Santamaria, researcher at the Institute of Nanoscience of Aragon, is currently working in a drug delivery systems using nanoparticles; microscopic particles that are measured in nanometers, a unit of measurement a million times smaller than a millimeter. "Our goal is to make the drug go where we want it to go and when we want," he says, "and that process should work through remote activation".
Thus, treatment accuracy is much higher than with traditional drugs. "When you take an aspirin it is distributed throughout your body and only a small portion will cure your headache. That is not only absurd in terms of wasting drugs, but also sometimes there are very significant side effects, for example in oncology, "said the expert. The improvement of accuracy by systems which allow the controlled of drugs release is the great challenge.
The system developed by the Institute of Nanoscience of Aragon is able to respond to an external signal, a magnetic field or near-infrared laser, that will increase the nanoparticle temperature. "When heated, it releases the drug getting a dual therapeutic effect. On the one hand, heat is already beneficial to eliminate malignant cells and on the other, the process allows us to release the drug at the time we want, "said Santamaria. Nanoparticles we are working whith are made of biodegradable polymeric materials and carry inside them the drug and an activator, which can be gold, a magnetic material or copper sulfide.
There are already drugs against cancer, that are being encapsulated in nanoparticles, so they eliminate two-thirds of its side effects. Furthermore, such nanotherapies are not only focused on oncology, but can be used for almost any disease. "In our group we conducted in vivo experiments with diabetic rats and we have been able to control the level of glucose with nanoparticles" as an example. Another possibility is to treat chronic pain and even this technology opens the possibility to combat Alzheimer since there are nanoparticles able to go across the blood brain barrier between blood vessels and the central nervous system.
Jesus Santamaria has started a collaboration with the team of Eva Martin del Valle, a researcher at the University of Salamanca who has a project using drug delivery nanoparticles specifically designed to combat lung cancer. "She's doing a very interesting work that is already getting results and has achieved a very positive symbiosis between her group, which develops materials, and the Center for Cancer Research, who thinks in clinical applications," says the scientist at the Institute of Nanoscience Aragon.
Fight against food-borne infections
Besides trying to heal, health research is also concerned with preventing disease. Mexican Carlos Regalado, from the Autonomous University of Queretaro, has presented during Bioiberoamerica 2016 its progresses against the microorganism Listeria monocytogenes, which "rarely causes disease, but when it happens is lethal", with mortality rates higher than salmonella, especially in the case of pregnant women, elderly, immunocompromised patients.
This bacteria can contaminate food by poor hygiene and is able to produce a biofilm that protects it treatments. Once in the body, it enters the cells and is able to reach the brain. Typically, sodium hypochlorite is used to combat it, but "in the presence of organic matter it produces carcinogenic compounds", so some countries are considering banning this solution. "Our alternative is to use electrolyzed water, which is obtained by adding a small concentration of salt to the water and subjecting it to electrolysis. As a result we get active chlorine compounds which are safer and more lethal to the microorganism than sodium hypochlorite", says the scientist.
A different kind of microorganisms are those which studies Edgardo Donati, director of CINDEFI, a center of biotechnology of the National University of La Plata and CONICET in Argentina. His team is looking for extremophiles; microorganisms that can survive in extreme environments such as high temperatures or in the presence of pollutants that destroy other life forms. The goal is to use them for cleaning heavy metal contaminated areas and also for bio-mining.
"Bio-mining is very recent concept," says the expert, "the idea is to replace the traditional mining technologies, such as pyrometallurgical techniques, which involve working at high temperatures and the emission of noxious gases, with an alternative based on microorganisms. This new process involves working at lower temperatures, is cheaper, highly efficient, and reduces environmental impacts. " Microorganisms accelerate chemical dissolution mechanisms up to a million times, so that facilitate the extraction of copper and other metals to such an extent that without them some processes would not be profitable. In their search for extremophiles, CINDEFI researchers have isolated new species of microorganisms, not known so far.
Todays program also includes the plenary lectures of Juan José Estruch, who runs two companies dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of veterinary problems, and Martin Schurmann, a biooxidaciones specialist. 'BIO.IBEROAMÉRICA 2016', a conference organized by the University of Salamanca, the Spanish Society of Biotechnology (SEBIOT) and the Portuguese Society of Biotechnology (SPBT), ends tomorrow, 8th of June after four days of scientific exchanges with more than 600 participants from all over Latin America.