23 January 2012
Professor Gleb Sukhorukov is refining sophisticated nanocapsule technology that opens up an exciting range of possibilities: from smarter drug delivery to an improved shelf-life for foods.
The more precisely drugs can be administered within the body, the more effective the results may be in treating a wide range of medical conditions. Gleb Sukhorukov has taken up the challenge of designing a multifunctional capsule that is able to target a particular site – be it a vital organ or malignant tumour – and deliver active substances locally.
As well as more effective treatments, this system can bring additional benefits: Gleb Sukhorukov explains, “For example, in cancer treatments, a more localised delivery may help to minimise the side effects of the treatment.”
Thanks to the modular fashion of the capsule’s construction, it can contain catalysts, drugs, enzymes or even DNA – depending on its ultimate use. For example, smart capsule technology could be used to repair or kill damaged cells, or even act as a diagnostic reporting system.
Whatever the specific function of a capsule, it is important that the materials used are able to degrade safely and exit the body leaving no trace. Capsules are made of biodegradable polymers like polypeptides and polysaccharides that gradually degrade.
Capsule shells can incorporate inorganic nanoparticles that can be acted upon by forces outside the body – in effect creating a capsule that can be remotely controlled.
Gleb Sukhorukov gives an example, “for example, a capsule could contain magnetic nanoparticles in its wall. A magnet could then be applied to the intended site of delivery, pulling the capsule and its contents towards the site through the magnetic field, and triggering the release of the component."
Gleb Sukhorukov has experimented with a number of different methods of triggering the release of active ingredients from capsules. In addition to magnetic fields, he has experimented with light, ultrasound and microwave radiation.
The capsule technology can also be put to use as a biosensor: a tiny capsule can be embedded just beneath the skin giving access to biochemical information, such as blood sugar or enzyme levels.
“For instance, urea is detected using capsules containing urease and a pH sensitive dye to register the change.” (Materials World, February 2011).
An optical readout applied to the skin can display this information in an easy-to-read format. This could be invaluable in the treatment of chronic conditions.
Alternatively, the sensor capsules can be placed on the surface of the skin and read biochemical information from perspiration. This less invasive option may be more appropriate for short-term monitoring – of athletes, for example.
Given the flexibility of the nanocapsules’ composition, there are many possible applications beyond drug delivery and health monitoring. Capsules could also be used in food packaging – both to assess the freshness of foods and even help to maintain it. Preserving enzymes could be encapsulated and triggered remotely as required.
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