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Inner-space Invaders:
A Magic Bullet

by Jeff Worley

"People might wonder, 'Why nanotechnology? Why nanoparticles?'" Mumper says. "Well, there's one primary reason. To be effective, more and more drug therapeutics have to be delivered to specific cells, tumor cells in the brain or in the liver, for example. And of course these cells have to be able to recognize and take up the material."

Microscope image of nanoparticlesThe nanoparticles that Jay and Mumper design—under an electron microscope they look like a cluster of marbles—are engineered to contain a cancer-killing drug and to seek out a particular cell in the body. After the particle reaches its target and is welcomed in, the drug is released into the cell, killing it.

Nanoparticles are so small, Mumper says, that cells can easily take them in—the typical cell is around 8,000 nanometers. "It's kind of like a magic bullet. It's a way to target specific nefarious cells without damaging healthy cells in the same neighborhood."

And Mumper gives another reason why these miniscule warriors are so effective—they can circulate in the body for a relatively long time without being removed by macrophages and other cellular police.

"Basically, the bigger the particle—the more noticeable a foreign body is—the more attention it attracts," he says. "So nanoparticles can move around undetected for a long time."

Another important thing about their process, says Jay, is that it's inexpensive. Instead of using expensive fluidizers, homogenizers and other equipment that can be used to make new pharmaceutical products, the researchers simply let nature take its course.

Illustration of nanoparticles"We literally throw the materials in—a mix of oil, water, surfactant, and the drug—and gently mix them together," Jay says, adding that the materials they use to make nanoparticles are all FDA-approved for use in humans. He and Mumper have patented this method of making nanoparticles, one of six patents they hold jointly in the field of drug delivery.

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