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Stealth approach to health

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Researchers at the University of Nottingham school of pharmacy have developed “stealth compounds” that can be activated by specific biomarkers.

The large molecular complexes are sheathed in a biocompatible polymer that prevents any biological interaction with the active material inside. DNA-based “zips” hold the cover in place until triggered to open by a specific biomarker. The release mechanism can be “bar-coded” to react to a range of triggers, such as a diseased gene. The contents can be an active drug compound, a molecular tag that attaches to diseased tissue or a molecular beacon to signal activation, depending on which function is required.

Project leader Cameron Alexander said: “These types of switchable nanoparticles could be extremely versatile. As well as initial detection of a medical condition, they could be used to monitor the progress of diseases and courses of treatment, or adapted to deliver potent drugs at particular locations in a patient’s body.” It may even become possible to use mobile phones rather than medical scanners to detect programmed responses from later generations of the devices, Professor Alexander suggests.

The concept has been tested in vitro and researchers are now hoping to develop the technique. The compounds have been developed as part of a five-year programme called Bar-coded Materials, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

An early application could be in dipstick technology, testing for specific infections in samples of blood or saliva, for example. Researchers hope that, in the longer term, the technology could be used in “self-authenticating medicines”, which would seek out diseased tissue and report on their success.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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