Queen Mary researchers develop nanogel-based targeted drugs

Targeted drugs may soon day be delivered to the body using nanogels that disassemble when they reach their destination

This is the goal of a Queen Mary University, London research project looking at the concept of cross-linked nanogel materials that disassemble and decompose in a sequence when triggered by a stimulus such as a specific enzyme in the body or change in pH level or temperature.

Principal investigator Marina Resmini said that nanoparticles have been developed for delivering drugs in the past but the particles developed have always come with drawbacks.

‘There is a wider issue of the toxicity of nanoparticles and so my goal was to develop a polymeric system which is able to break down into its original component once it’s in the body,’ she said. ‘The advantage of this is the drug would be released but you wouldn’t have the issue with the toxicity because they would essentially be decomposed.’

The project has received £173,862 through an EPSRC program dubbed Bright IDEAS, which is funding a total of £2m for several research programmes aimed at ‘crossing boundaries’ between chemistry and other disciplines.

Resmini, a researcher in synthetic chemistry, said the idea for her project was inspired by pharmaceutical companies’ efforts to extend the lifecycle of existing drugs. ‘By developing new delivery systems it allows them to make the same more drug more effective with less side effects,’ she said.

Her team plans to test their nanogel drug delivery systems first using mock biological models in the laboratory. Before testing actual pharmaceuticals, the researchers will use chlorophyll fluorescence or biochemical markers to monitor the nanogels’ ability to disassemble and release drugs when exposed to a biological trigger.

Within two years Resmini said she hopes to identify a proof of concept of a cross-linked nanogel capable of disassembling at a controllable rate–meaning it could be designed for immediate or slow release.

‘The key step is to be able to control the process,’ she said, ‘so we know we can alter certain parameters and have a quick, sustained or slow release.’

Beyond the medical sphere, Resmini said the methodology could have wider applicability in the delivery of pesticides in agriculture.