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The list of side effects on your next prescription bottle may one day be a lot shorter, according to
researchers at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering.
That's because instead of taking a conventional medication, you may
instead swallow tiny "nanofactories," biochemical machines that act like
cells, first conceived of at the Clark School.
For example, these ingested nanofactories, using magnetism, could
detect a bacterial infection, produce a medication using the body's own
materials, and deliver a dose directly to the bacteria. The drug would do
its work only at the infection site, and thus not cause the side effects
that may arise when an antibiotic travels throughout the body in search of
William Bentley, professor and chair of the Fischell Department of
Bioengineering at the Clark School, and several graduate students including
Rohan Fernandes, have developed this "magnetic nanofactory" concept and
published their research in Metabolic Engineering in December of last year.
Colleagues around the country voiced their support for the technology in
Nature Nanotechnology last month.
"In the lab," Bentley says, "our group showed we can produce a tiny
nanofactory and attach it to a target cell magnetically. The nanofactory
then makes small molecules from surrounding materials and delivers the
molecules -- potentially drug molecules -- to the targeted cell."
Besides drug molecules, the researchers showed that the nanofactory
could produce signaling molecules that communicate with the target cell or
block the target cell from communicating with other, similar cells (a
process called "quorum sensing") and thus prevent infection. The
researchers attached the nanofactories to E. coli cells, targeting them
with the help of a mixture of iron particles and chitosan, a substance
derived from the shells of crustaceans like crabs and shrimp. The
nanofactories then produced a signaling molecule that could render the E.
coli harmless. Nanofactories could be designed to produce the needed drug
molecules over an extended period of time.
Now that the viability of nanofactories has been shown, researchers
must overcome a few challenges before they can be used in humans. First,
nanofactories must be cloaked so that the body does not react to them as a
foreign substance and try to attack them. Another goal is to find a method
to shut down the nanofactory once it has produced the needed substance -- a
type of off-switch that could be activated from outside the body. These and
other topics are being investigated in the Fischell Department of
NOTE TO EDITORS:
Images are available for this release here:
The Metabolic Engineering and Nature Nanotechnology articles can be made
available upon request.
Bentley Research Group Webpage:
About Clark School of Engineering
The Clark School of Engineering, situated on the rolling, 1,500-acre
University of Maryland campus in College Park, Md., is one of the premier
engineering schools in the U.S.
The Clark School's graduate programs are collectively the fastest
rising in the nation. In U.S. News & World Report's annual rating of
graduate programs, the school is 15th among public and private programs
nationally, 9th among public programs nationally and first among public
programs in the mid-Atlantic region. The School offers 13 graduate programs
and 12 undergraduate programs, including degree and certification programs
tailored for working professionals.
The school is home to one of the most vibrant research programs in the
country. With major emphasis in key areas such as communications and
networking, nanotechnology, bioengineering, reliability engineering,
project management, intelligent transportation systems and space robotics,
as well as electronic packaging and smart small systems and materials, the
Clark School is leading the way toward the next generations of engineering
Visit the Clark School homepage at http://www.eng.umd.edu .
For more information, please click here
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