Researchers at the
The compounds have been developed as part of a five-year programme funded by the
The cloak each spherical complex wears is perhaps more a plastic mac: a sheath of biocompatible polymer that encapsulates and shrouds biologically active material inside, preventing any biological interaction so long as the shield remains in place.
The smart aspect is in the DNA-based zips that hold the coat in place until triggered to undo. Because any DNA code (or "molecular cipher") can be chosen, the release mechanism can be bar-coded so that it is triggered by a specific biomarker - for example a message from a disease gene.
What is then exposed - an active pharmaceutical compound, a molecular tag to attach to diseased tissue, or a molecular beacon to signal activation - depends on what function is needed.
In their initial trials, the team has proved the concept works in the test tube - the switchable molecular constructs do respond as expected when presented with the right molecular signals. The group is now working hard to push their idea forwards.
An early application might be in dipstick technology - testing for specific infections in a blood or spit sample, for example. But because the polymer coating (called polyethylene glycol) is biocompatible, the researchers are hopeful that in the long run "self-authenticating medicines" based on the approach could be injected into patients, to seek out diseased tissue, and report their success.
"The key to this breakthrough has been the five-year EPSRC Leadership Fellowship awarded to me back in 2009", Professor Alexander comments. "This has provided the stability of funding to recruit and retain an outstanding team, who have been integral to realising the ideas put forward in the Fellowship. It has also given us the freedom to explore a whole range of new concepts, as well as the time needed to test our ideas to bring this and other breakthroughs within reach".
Keywords for this news article include: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
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