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Nanomaterials June 2016 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Marianne Monteforte

Fat-Fighting Nano-Drug-Delivery Systems

Why is this topic significant?

Scientists are responding to the increasing public demand for therapeutics that are capable of treating obesity. Recent research reveals a "fat-fighting" nanoparticle-drug-delivery system that has the potential to combat the current obesity epidemic in the United States.

Description

In May 2016, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Brigham and Woman's Hospital revealed their development of a novel nanoparticle-delivery system that is capable of site-specific drug delivery of rosiglitazone and prostaglandin to fatty tissue in the body. The drugs induce the development of new blood vessels and convert fat-storing white adipose tissue into fat-burning brown adipose tissue.

The researchers embed the drugs in a polymer core, which they subsequently coat with a polyethylene glycol polymer shell functionalized with targeting "anchor" molecules that bind specifically to proteins in the adipose tissues. Tests of the drug-delivery system on obese mice revealed that the mice shed 10% of their body weight and lowered their cholesterol levels over the course of 25 days. According to one of the lead researchers in this project—Professor Omid Farokhzad—"This is a proof-of-concept approach for selectively targeting the white adipose tissue and 'browning it' to allow the body to burn fat... The technology could then be used with other drug molecules that may be developed or other targets that may come up." The research team is now focusing on developing an approach to administer the drug orally and overcoming the issues of intestine-lining penetration.

Implications

The US Food and Drug Administration has not approved the drugs that the researchers are using for treating obesity. The drugs by themselves could promote growth of new blood vessels in untargeted sites. The MIT researchers designed a targeted nanoparticle-drug-delivery system to reduce the potential for the patients of systemic side effects of the drugs. Also the researchers' use of a stealth polymer coating provides the drug with a high degree of steric stabilization, thus prolonging the circulation time in the body.

However, the researchers reveal the use of this nanoparticle system as a proof-of-concept method only; it still requires extensive studies before reaching clinical trials. Also, scientists still do not fully understand the interaction between the nanoparticles and the surrounding biological systems. Therefore, they are unaware of how the system will react with the body. Nevertheless, despite the potential risks associated with the drug-delivery system, it could still be of great benefit to morbidly obese patients.

Impacts/Disruptions

Obesity is a major health issue in the United States; almost one-third of the population falls under the bracket of obese. An increasing prevalence of obesity in many countries is contributing toward the cause of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, liver disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancers. As a result, the economic burden of obesity on a nation and societies is increasing and affecting health-insurance costs, rates of sick leave, and life-insurance premiums.

Targeted therapies have the potential to relieve such economic burdens on nations by creating more precise treatments for obesity and for the treatment of a range of chronic diseases. Research into targeted drug-delivery systems has been growing rapidly in the past decade. However, according to a recent study from the University of Toronto's Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering, major limitations to current nanoparticle-based targeted drug-delivery systems exist. The study reveals that the efficiency of site-specific drug release is low (with a median value of 0.7% reaching their target) and thus requires a better understanding of the active biology and mechanisms before becoming close to commercialization.

Scale of Impact

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

Time of Impact

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

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Health care, nanomedicine, insurance

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Global Expansion of Water-Purification Technologies

Why is this topic significant?

Many people have no access to safe drinking water. Recent expansion in nanotechnology-based water-purification technologies and products could help toward solving this water crisis by providing clean drinking water around the globe.

Description

In May 2016, InnoNano Research (INR)—an Indian clean-water-technology company—announced $18 million worth of investment from NanoHoldings (NH), a US energy and water-investment firm, to upscale its water-purification technologies and products. The funding is part of a five-year project for the companies to expand INR's manufacturing facilities, research laboratories, and technology, providing offices in North America, Asia, and Africa.

INR has long been developing silver-nanoparticle-based water-filter systems to remove arsenic from water. The systems are readily adaptable to the high diversity of local and global water supplies and are capable of filtering out contaminants specific to certain areas of the globe. INR also develops systems that require no electricity to operate, making them readily maintainable in developing countries and for locations where power supply is unpredictable. In addition, NanoHoldings has been supporting INR for the past four years by providing the research group with funding to patent its nanotechnology-based water-purification technologies. According to Thalappil Pradeep, cofounder and director of INR, in an article in the Financial Express, "Water is an area where India needs self-reliance and every technology and every effort matters in this noble objective. Water technologies have to be inclusive as water itself presents enormous diversity, both locally and globally."

Implications

Scientists are constantly striving to develop new nanotechnology-based water-filtration technologies and products that are affordable and capable of providing safe and purified drinking water. Opportunities also exist for the application of the technologies in desalination systems or for consumer goods such as filter water bottles.

The large sum of funding that NH is providing INR will expand INR's presence in the water-purification market—which is currently led by three major players: Eureka Forbes, Hindustan Lever, and Philips—and it will likely accelerate the rate of release of new patents and filtration technologies. However, despite the attractiveness of nonelectric purifiers, ultraviolet- (UV-) light water purifiers still hold two-thirds of the existing water-purification market, which may hinder market-penetration rates. In addition, other researchers are developing nanoparticle-based water systems—for example, Uppsala University researchers' recent development of a nanocellulose-based water-filtration paper—that would be competition for INR's product.

Impacts/Disruptions

According to the World Health Organization, "2.6 billion people—half the developing world—lack even a simple 'improved' latrine and 1.1 billion people have no access to any type of improved drinking water." Dwindling freshwater supplies in some parts of the world and limitations in access to safe and clean drinking water are increasing the public's risk of exposure to many deadly diseases such as diarrhoeal disease, schistosomiasis, and intestinal parasites. In addition, in some developing countries, many rural populations are moving into urban areas and starting to switch to purifying water rather than boiling it to remove contaminants. That practice is increasing the demand on water-purifier companies. Widespread commercialization of nonelectric nanotechnology-based technologies could improve lives worldwide and at the same time severely undermine the market for existing UV products.

Scale of Impact

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

Time of Impact

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

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Health care, consumer products, water, sanitation

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: