University of Glasgow
My fellowship is concerned with the development of magnetic or fluorescent nanoparticles for biomedical applications. These particles are of a size similar to cellular proteins, thus we can use them as carrier vehicles to transport therapy into cells, and to also then send signals out allowing us to visualise the cells (eg. fluorescence). They are, for example, currently used as in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and are being researched as drug and gene delivery vehicles.
At present, all biomedical applications require the cells to take up as much of the nanoparticles as possible to enhance the image resolution or increase drug/gene delivery. This past year I have been focusing on two separate methods to increase this uptake.
The first is to use a magnetic field to essentially pull magnetic iron oxide particles into the cells. This has proved a popular technique and is now commercially available, however very little work has been done on the influence of the applied field. I have shown that, while successful in pulling particles into cells, the cells themselves do respond to very small fields, changing their shape and alignment. This is important as magnetic fields are increasingly being used in this fashion, thus we need to better understand any secondary effects.
The second method is using a particular type of protein called a ‘cell penetrating peptide’, attached onto the particles. These peptides effectively disguise the particles and allow the cells to take them up into the cell body. I have focused mainly on one peptide in this last year, penetratin, which has proved very successful.
The aim is, by utilising these two cell uptake enhancement methods detailed above, we can use novel NPs to (1) target specific diseased tissue, (2) deliver therapy and (3) feedback (ie. via images) on the disease progression. Such NPs would as such be 'theranostic', by both delivering therapy and being diagnostic.