A conversation at the cutting edge of drug-delivery nanotechnology

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Kytai Nguyen

The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA; Arlington, USA) announced in June 2022 that Kytai Nguyen, a UTA bioengineering professor, had received National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to develop a dual-capability biodegradable nanoparticle for use in treating peripheral arterial disease (PAD).

The US$2.1 million grant will allow Nguyen, in collaboration with Jian Yang, a Penn State University (University Park Pennsylvania, USA) bioengineering professor, and Ralph Mason, a professor of radiology at UT Southwestern (Dallas, USA), to investigate the potential applications of a drug-delivering, fluorescent polymer. Nguyen discussed her project with Interventional News, shedding light on key aspects of this research.

Nguyen opened the conversation by recounting the emergence of nanotechnology: “I began working at UTA in 2005,” she relayed, “and at this time, nanotechnology was still new. I was interested in whether I could apply [a] nanoparticle as a drug carrier and an imaging agent.”

It was not in the PAD space that Nguyen initiated her research, however. She explained that “at first, we worked with cancer, and cardiovascular and lung disease.” The motivation for entering into this area of research stemmed from the fact that drug delivery to treat these conditions often results in side-effects for patients, she outlined. “When you deliver a drug, it will go all over the body […] Many drugs are effective, but toxic to the body.” This is where nanoparticles come in, she proceeded to detail, as they can be more specifically targeted within the body. In turn, this has “the potential to reduce side-effects.” This would amount to an improvement on existing treatments for PAD, as, like those for cancer, and cardiovascular and lung disease, drugs, as they are delivered currently, cannot always be targeted with desirable accuracy.

Then probed about the dual capabilities of both drug delivery and imaging compatibility, Nguyen shared how the polymer she is researching is naturally fluorescent. This means, she expanded, that “we can use multiple imaging modalities,” of which ultrasound is one, to determine “the location and quantity of the particle delivered.” This speaks to the shortcomings of current drug delivery methods, which lie in the fact they cannot be as easily localised. With the drug “encapsulated” inside the very polymer that facilitates precise imaging, there is no need for a separate “toxic quantum dye” in addition to the drug, to highlight where in the body the drug has travelled. “We can chase this polymer [over time],” Nguyen summarised. For PAD specifically “we want to focus on the muscle and where [within it] the nanoparticle ends up.”

Next on the discussion agenda was the significance of the polymer’s biodegradability: “We want [it to be] biodegradable so it will leave the body and not accumulate,” Nguyen stated. It is crucial, she went on, to be able to re-administer the drug “many times” when treating PAD, but drug carriers, some of which contain metals, can become toxic to the body in the long term. Her nanoparticle, however, can be “cleared by the body,” while allowing the drug it contains to act where it is targeted.

Nguyen ended by casting her mind forward to the next five years, and the milestones that await them in this project. As far as the here and now is concerned, research is at the in vitro study stage, Nguyen elucidated, underlining that “much more work” will be necessary before they can test on humans. “We are testing on mice […but] hopefully, if everything is successful, we will move on to larger animals.” Clinical trials are likely to be at least five years away, Nguyen advised.


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