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Inner-space Invaders:
Nanoparticles Delivering Knockout Drugs

by Jeff Worley

Armed with therapeutic drugs, nanoparticles injected into the body move along in the bloodstream toward their target—a cancer cell. The mighty macrophages spot a few of them and gobble them up. But these nearly invisible legions of stealthy, infinitesimal specks make it past almost all the sentries, invade the target cell, and release their potent drugs.

Illustration of nanoparticlesThis scenario is being perfected by Russ Mumper and Mike Jay in the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy. Mumper's recent work with nanoparticles, funded by the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, holds great promise for treating various cancers and fighting viruses like HIV.

Illustration of nanoparticles"Mike and I are involved in several projects to deliver drugs in new and better ways," says Mumper, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical science who returned to UK four years ago after spending seven years in industry. "Using nanotechnology, we're able to package drugs in tiny spheres and send them to specific cells."

Nanoparticles continue to gain attention and earn respect. They're so small they are measured in nanometers—billionths of a meter. To put this in perspective, the width of this letter "I" is about a million nanometers.

Illustration of nanoparticles"The essence of nanotechnology is the ability to work at the ultra-small level," says Jay, a professor of pharmaceutical science and director of UK's Center for Pharmaceutical Science and Technology [see sidebar]. "Simply put, the engineering idea is to design things from the inside out at the nano scale to create exactly what we want. Nanotechnology offers limitless possibilities in the fields of pharmacology and medicine. It provides new ways for us to deliver specifically targeted, potentially life-saving drugs."

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