Scientists at the University of Buffalo have found a new use for nanotechnology—as an extremely precise way of delivering chemicals to the right part of the brain to combat drug addiction. And, pleasingly, the science really does fit the "golden bullet" label as these nanoparticles are literally made of gold.
Medical researchers have known for a while that a particular brain protein, DARRP-32, is a key element in the chemistry of drug addiction. It's a "trigger" for a host of reactions in the brain that creates craving, and if it's "silenced," then the urge to re-take a drug should diminish. The trick is getting to the protein to quash its influence, which requires conventional therapies to cross the blood-brain barrier, something that's proven difficult.
Enter the gold nanoparticles. They're actually nanorods, and in the Buffalo technique, they're coated with short-interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules which switch off the DARRP-32 protein. The combination is apparently 40% efficient at reaching the target sites in the brain, which is much higher than previously possible, and it's apparently the first time siRNA molecules have been combined with gold nanoparticles. The gold is particularly suited to the task due to its high biocompatibility and the fact that the rods have a larger surface area than nanospheres, thus allowing more RNA to stick to the exterior (in the image, the brain cells show as blue, and gold nanoparticles within them as orange spots.)
The team plans in-vivo tests soon, and if successful, they'll have created a very powerful chemical weapon to combat many types of drug addiction. The technique should also translate to treating other disorders. As Stanley A. Schwartz, a professor in the university's department of medicine notes, the study shows that "These nanoparticles are both a safe and very efficient way of delivering to a variety of tissues highly sophisticated new drugs that turn off abnormal genes." The current thinking is that the nanotech may be suitable for AIDS, dementia, prostate cancer, and—the potential big money-winner—asthma.
[via Buffalo NewsCenter]