One of the perennial problems for both doctors and patients is making sure that drugs are taken at the right times and in the right amounts. What if, instead of shots or pills, medicine could be delivered to specific locations in precisely-modulated dosages? Researchers from North Carolina State University think their newly-developed “nanovolcanoes” could do just that.
The nanovolcano moniker is apt. The NC State researchers, who published their results in ACS Nano, say they can accurately design the size of the core and opening of the polymer-based nanovolcanoes, which would make them good candidates for any type of time-release application. The structures are produced on a film and etched with light (more on that in a moment), which makes it possible to produce them in large quantities.
Medicine is the application pitched by the researchers, but there are plenty of potential uses. Off the top of my head, filling them with a lubricant to add an extra wear-protection layer in bearings and car engines would be pretty cool, although figuring out what a nanoscale lubricant would look like is a whole separate engineering challenge.
“The materials used in this process are relatively inexpensive, and the process can be easily scaled up,” co-author Dr. Chih-Hao Chang of NC State said in a release. “In addition, we can produce the nano-volcanoes in a uniformly patterned array, which may also be useful for controlling drug delivery.”
The tiny receptacles start off as translucent, spherical nanoparticles that are arrayed on a thin, photoreactive film. The researchers found that by shining light of specific intensity and frequency at the polymer nanospheres, they could develop the film in specific, volcano-like patterns. Washing away the developed portions of the film with a solvent thus leaves only the nanovolcanoes behind. As you can see in the image above, the diffraction of light through the nanosphere leaves rays that can develop negative spaces within the film. Cool, right?
Researchers say they’ve developed software to model how light etches the film, which means they can be created to fairly exact specifications. So are nanovolcanoes really the future of drug delivery? They could be, as they offer some rather fascinating packaging potential. Finding or developing drugs that can work effectively in such tiny packages and figuring out how to fill the nanovolcanoes efficiently is the next hurdle, and it’s a pretty big one.