These defences protect the body from foreign bodies that enter the bloodstream, including therapeutic nanoparticles. The different levels of attack include enzymes in the blood corrode the particles and microphage cells that actively attack and destroy the particles and remove them from the bloodstream.
These defences are so effective that on average just one out of every 100,000 drug molecules actually end up in the area they were meant to be targeting. In the past it had been difficult to find particles that could both penetrate these "biobarriers" and effectively find and target the correct tumour cells.
Mauro Ferrari's multistage delivery system overcomes these defences using a series of nanoparticles, contained one inside the other. As it passes through each barrier the drug sheds a shell to reveal a new particle that is best suited to the next line of immune defence
1. First the largest nanoparticle is a mesoporous silicon particle, designed to avoid attack by the microphages and which can withstand enzyme corrosion.
2. Once in their desired position, the silicon particles can release quantum dots or carbon nanotubes - both of which act as contrast agents for imaging applications. The carbon nanotubes can also be stimulated to produce heat, which itself could be used as a therapy.
These particles can also be used to deliver other therapeutic agents, to achieve high concentrations within the tumour without needing to increase the actual dosage of the drug. Ferrari is currently investigating the possibility of using the particles to deliver short interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules that could silence messenger RNA within a tumour cell to stop it reproducing.
Abstract of the paper : Mesoporous silicon particles as a multistage delivery system for imaging and therapeutic applications