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Nanobiotechnology September 2017 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Ivona Petrache

Noninvasive Imaging to Improve Nanoparticle-Drug Delivery

By Marianne Monteforte
Monteforte is a senior research analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

The number of drug-delivery strategies that involve nanoparticles is growing. However, drug developers still need to overcome formidable obstacles to such strategies, such as nonspecific drug distribution and inadequate accumulation of therapeutics. New imaging techniques that track drug carriers could help to improve the efficiency of therapeutic nanoparticle treatments and even enable personalized medicines.

Description

Nanoparticles are effective drug carriers that can, for example, deliver chemotherapy drugs through a patient's bloodstream to a cancerous tumor. This form of targeted drug delivery is localized and thus reduces the unwanted toxic side effects of chemotherapy treatments and enhances the treatments' efficiency. However, many factors, including delivery and drug penetration, can compromise the drug-treatment process. Recently, a meta-analysis study by University of Toronto researchers revealed that nanoparticle drug-delivery systems were failing to distribute drugs in tumors.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Toronto incorporated a high-resolution three-dimensional (3D) imaging technique that enabled them to observe the precise distribution of tough-to-see nanoparticles in a tumor. According to one of the researchers, Shrey Sindhwani, "The goal is to use this [imaging] technology to gather knowledge for developing mathematical principles of nanoparticle distribution in cancer, similar to the way principles exist for understanding the function of the heart." The next stage of the study aims to understand what is preventing the nanoparticles from fully penetrating tumors and to develop new approaches to bypass such defenses.

Implications

The University of Toronto researchers' use of an imaging technique to map therapeutic nanoparticles in a tumor is not new. However, their application of a high-resolution imaging technique to map the 3D location of therapeutic nanoparticles precisely is significant. Such imaging techniques could find widespread use in providing scientists with a full picture of how therapeutic nanoparticles interact with tumors. As a result, this imaging technique could lead to the development of more efficient drug-delivery systems than those that are available today. Also, because each cancerous tumor is unique to the patient, the technology could assist clinicians to understand the barriers to drug delivery on a personalized basis and thus lead to custom treatments.

Imaging methods that enable noninvasive assessments of biological tumors could help to improve clinicians' ability to distribute drugs within specific locations in the body and enable higher drug-treatment efficiency than that of conventional methods. Also, imaging technologies have the potential to enhance researchers' understanding of drug-treatment efficiency during preclinical and clinical drug development. Such knowledge will help drug developers progress the drug candidates that are most likely to be successful and halt the candidates that are likely to fail.

Impacts/Disruptions

The market for drug-delivery technologies is growing as innovators explore new delivery approaches that use therapeutic nanoparticles to deliver drugs that can treat not only cancer but also a range of other diseases. Despite R&D progress in the field of nanoparticle therapeutics, the technologies still face many commercial barriers to success, including scientific, patent, and regulatory challenges. In addition, countries vary in their drug-administration guidelines and policies. For example, in Singapore and Hong Kong, drug approvals can take one to two years, and in Japan and China, authorities require domestic data before approving drugs.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Medical research, health care, medicine, pharmaceuticals

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Investigating the Optical Properties of Gold Nanoclusters

By Lucy Young
Young is a senior consultant with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Studies that investigate the functions behind the novel capabilities of nanomaterials will not only increase scientific understanding of these capabilities but also aid researchers in designing new nanotechnologies.

Description

In a fundamental research project, an international team of scientists has explored the fluorescence of gold nanoclusters. The results of their work, which appeared in the Journal of Chemical Physics, show for the first time that the fluorescence of Au20—ligand-protected gold nanoclusters with a tetrahedral structure—is intrinsic to the gold nanoparticles, rather than its fluorescence resulting from the interaction between the ligands and the gold core.

Investigating the optical absorption, excitation, and fluorescence spectra of gold nanoclusters in their gas phase is difficult because the nanoclusters produce a weak signal in comparison with background noise. Instead, the scientists embedded the Au20 in a solid neon matrix to overcome the issue of the poor signal-to-noise ratio. Although the matrix causes a small blue shift in the absorption spectrum—which the scientists can account for—the matrix does not otherwise affect the structure of the nanoclusters. Consequently, the results are the best approximation of the optical properties of Au20 nanoclusters, according to the researchers.

Implications

Investigations into the fundamental properties of nanoparticles can help researchers to understand them better and to make use of nanoparticles' capabilities in optimal ways. One of the main benefits of nanoparticles is their ability to behave differently than does the bulk version of the same material. Understanding the causes behind these novel properties at the nanoscale is useful for harnessing nanoparticles for use in technologies including electronics, biosensors, pharmaceuticals, and materials. The scientists have shown that the fluorescence of Au20 nanoclusters is a result of the gold metal itself and not the ligand-gold interaction. This knowledge could help researchers to design new nanoclusters, such as nanoclusters with maximum fluorescence. The knowledge also helps to prevent design practices based on the theory that the ligand-gold interaction is the source of fluorescence.

Impacts/Disruptions

Many researchers have investigated the usefulness of gold nanoparticles in a range of applications. Their photostability and chemical stability give them tolerance to light degradation and contact with chemicals, making them versatile and durable tools. Gold nanoparticles also tend to be biocompatible. These properties, together with gold nanoparticles' ability to fluoresce, make them useful for bioimaging and biosensing applications. With other potential applications, including drug delivery and cancer diagnosis, the demand for gold nanoparticles looks likely to increase in the coming years. Technavio predicts the market between 2017 and 2021 will grow at a compound annual growth rate of about 19%. Fundamental studies investigating gold nanoparticles' capabilities will help the development of technologies that make use of these nanoparticles.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Low

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Medicine, diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, materials, nanotechnology, electronics, biosensors

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: