By Jayna Miller
Lipids are the basic building blocks of biological membranes – and one of the best materials that nature provides us to entrap materials in nanoscale.
Dr. Mu-Ping Nieh, an associate professor at UConn, is leading a research group investigating the potential of lipid-based nanoparticles for drug delivery. Under certain conditions, lipids can self-assemble into hollow, nanoscale spheres (vesicles), solid nanodiscs, or worm-like nano-ribbons. Depending on the properties of drug molecules, it is possible to insert drugs into these structures to help fight diseases, particularly cancer.
One of the challenges involved in this research is how to determine whether the nanodiscs will target cancer-infected cells rather than healthy cells. Current chemotherapy techniques are often harsh, as many good cells are killed in the process of destroying cancer cells, causing patients to become weak from the treatment. The new treatment method proposed by Dr. Nieh’s research team will recognize and attack infected cells only, and thereby reduce patient discomfort.
Dr. Nieh was recently awarded a National Science Foundation grant in 2012 to design such nano-carriers. “Lipid-based nanodiscs and vesicles have the potential to serve as delivery carriers for therapeutics or diagnostic agents, so the stability of the structure is an important issue,” he said.
By examining the morphology of the nanoparticles, Dr. Nieh hopes to gain a better understanding of how the structure affects the targeting efficacy of the nanoparticles, leading to the design of a stable drug delivery system. His next challenge is to generalize the strategy to manufacture uniform nanoparticles from any lipid system in large quantities.