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Creating nanomaterials with the exciting potential for new applications

Dr Marina Resmini is working with nanomaterials to develop new drug delivery systems 

24 October 2011


Nanotechnology has developed considerably over the last twenty years especially in the area of materials chemistry. Over the last decade, Dr Marina Resmini has been working on the development of nanomaterials, in particular microgels and nanogels with biomimetic properties, using the molecular imprinting approach. Biomimetic materials have specific properties that potentially allow the mimicking of biological processes.

Among these biomimetic materials, polymeric nanogels are of particular interest to Marina Resmini. Nanogels are composed of polymeric particles with a particle size of between 5 to 100 nanometers (nm). Just to give an idea of scale, one nanometer is one billionth of a metre. Nanogels are characterised by a high surface to volume ratio which means they offer a large surface area, and have the ability to dissolve in appropriate solvent systems. These properties open up a wide range of potential applications.

Marina Resmini’s research group is currently exploring the potential applications of these materials – such as drug delivery – at the physical and life science interface.

Nanogels and drug delivery

‘Drug delivery’ covers all aspects of the systems designed to enable the effective, safe and economic use of drugs. As a field, it has traditionally been somewhat conservative, in that the effort invested in the discovery of new drugs has rarely been matched by the development of new delivery systems. One of the most important reasons for this is cost, both at the research and development level, as well as in clinical trials.

The application of nanomaterials to drug delivery systems offers some potentially exciting new solutions such as: i) improved drug solubility; ii) improved drug stability and shelf-life; iii) increased bioavailability; iv) controlled release and; v) the opportunity to achieve drug targeting for efficiency.

Self-disassembling nanogels as novel drug delivery vehicles

Despite the potential advantages of using nanomaterials in drug delivery, progress so far has been limited by the lack of current knowledge about possible toxicity and environmental impact. In particular, little is known about the consequences of accumulated nanoparticles in the body.

Marina Resmini is designing a drug delivery system that is able to self disassemble within the body, reducing the risk of potential toxicity. Driving this project is the following question: what if new polymeric nanoparticles could be synthesised so that a single trigger activated the decomposition process, leading to the polymer breaking down into its basic units while releasing the drug at the same time?

Marina Resmini states: “We already have preliminary results that positively indicate the feasibility of the systems we are developing.”

This research project was selected for an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) ‘Bright IDEAS in chemistry’ award in a ‘Dragons’ Den’ style competition. From an initial 96 proposals the panel selected 12 projects. Academics were then invited to ‘pitch’ their ideas in 15 minutes. Six projects were finally selected for funding, see the press release on the ESPRC website: www.esprc.ac.uk 

Nanoparticles for topical drug delivery

The skin is the largest organ in the human body, accounting for about 15 per cent of the total adult body weight, and acting as the main site of our interaction with the surrounding environment. For topically applied drugs – such as creams – to be effective, the drug must be able to penetrate the skin (the stratum corneum) and be absorbed.

Marina Resmini is working towards developing more effective drug delivery systems for skin treatments. She is the co-ordinator of NANODRUG, a new EC Initial Training Network comprising 13 teams, including four industrial partners. NANODRUG is focusing specifically on the development of novel nanoparticles for topical drug delivery.

To this end, Marina Resmini is collaborating with Professor David Kelsell and Professor Edel O'Toole in the Centre for Cutaneous Research at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. David Kelsell is also part of the NANODRUG consortium.

Together they are designing and testing the use of novel nanomaterials to improve treatments for inflammatory skin disease – eg eczema and psoriasis. Working at the nano-level is expected to lead to a more effective treatment, with drugs that can more easily permeate the skin and work more effectively with fewer side effects.

The Resmini research group

Prior to these projects, Marina Resmini’s group reported the first example of imprinted microgel with enzyme-like activity in ester hydrolysis. This was more recently followed by the development of imprinted nanogels mimicking Aldolase type I enzymes in catalyzing the high-energy C-C bond forming aldol reaction. This type of reaction is not only very important in organic chemistry, but is also relevant to the pharmaceutical industry. It is often used in the synthesis of important drugs, such as Relenza – which was used to treat the recent outbreaks of swine flu.

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