Malaysian scientists join Harvard team to create effective nano drugs

Will assess how nanomedicine particles behave in the body, what attaches to them to form a coating, where the drug accumulates and how it interacts with target and non-target cells

Malaysian scientists are joining forces with Harvard University experts to help revolutionise the treatment of lung diseases by delivering nanomedicine deep into places otherwise impossible to reach.

Under a five-year memorandum of understanding between Harvard and the University of Malaya, Malaysian scientists will join a distinguished team seeking a safe, more effective way of tackling lung problems including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Treatment of COPD and lung cancer commonly involves chemotherapeutics and corticosteroids misted into a fine spray and inhaled, enabling direct delivery to the lungs and quick medicinal effect. However, because the particles produced by today's inhalers are large, most of the medicine is deposited in the upper respiratory tract.

The Harvard team, within the university's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is working on 'smart' nanoparticles that deliver appropriate levels of diagnostic and therapeutic agents to the deepest, tiniest sacs of the lung, a process potentially assisted by the use of magnetic fields.

The Malaysian team aims to help ensure the safety and improve the effectiveness of nanomedicine, assessing how nanomedicine particles behave in the body, what attaches to them to form a coating, where the drug accumulates and how it interacts with target and non-target cells.

Smart nanoparticles deliver appropriate levels of diagnostic and therapeutic agents to the deepest, tiniest sacs of the lung

Led by Joseph Brain, the Cecil K. and Philip Drinker Professor of Environmental Physiology, the research draws on extensive expertise at Harvard in biokinetics – determining how to administer medicine to achieve the proper dosage to have an impact on target cells and assessing the extent to which drug-loaded nanoparticles pass through biological barriers to different organs.

The studies also build on decades of experience studying the biology of macrophages –large, specialised cells that recognise, engulf and destroy target cells as part of the human immune system.

Manipulating immune cells represents an important strategy for treating lung diseases such as COPD and lung cancer, as well as infectious diseases including tuberculosis and listeriosis, the researchers say.

Inhaled nanomedicine holds the promise of helping doctors prevent and treat such problems in future because they reach the target area more swiftly than if administered orally or even intravenously.

'Nanotechnology is making a significant impact on healthcare by delivering improvements in disease diagnosis and monitoring, as well as enabling new approaches to regenerative medicine and drug delivery,' says Prof. Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia.

'Malaysia, through NanoMITe, is proud and excited to join the Harvard team and contribute to the creation of these life-giving innovations.'

The research effort with Harvard is one of several underway at the Malaysia Institute for Innovative Nanotechnology, initiated in 2013 through Malaysia's Global Science & Innovation Advisory Council, led by YAB Prime Minister Dato' Sri Najib Razak.

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