Discovery Files

Novel nanogels hold promise for improved drug delivery to cancer patients

Researchers develop new guidelines for fabricating nanoscale gel materials for improved drug delivery

NSF-funded researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed new guidelines for fabricating nanoscale gel materials, or nanogels, that can deliver therapeutic remedies to treat cancer in a precise manner. In addition to enabling the delivery of drugs to tumors, the nanogels can target malignant cells and degrade into nontoxic components.

The most important characteristic of these nanogels is their ability to be chemically modified or "decorated" with bioactive molecules, scientists say. These modifications give the decorated nanogels diverse physical and chemical properties. Such systems, which have the potential of being tailored to specific diseases or individual patients, could be an important tool for oncologists.

In a study published in the latest issue of Science Advances, researchers outline the development of nanogels for cancer treatment. Following a series of chemical modifications, the nanogels are capable of loading and releasing drugs, responding to unique pH environments, identifying biomarkers, converting light into therapeutic heating and exhibiting degradation characteristics.

The research team, led by drug delivery pioneer Nicholas Peppas, conducted the study over four years at UT's Institute for Biomaterials, Drug Delivery & Regenerative Medicine. The team synthesized and purified nanogels containing carboxylic acids, chemical functional groups that are common in natural biological molecules. These allowed the researchers to chemically couple the nanogels to bioactive molecules. A combination of modifications was needed to tailor the nanogels for targeted drug delivery.

The research was funded by NSF's Directorate for Education and Human Resources, through a Graduate Research Fellowship Program award to Marvin Hackert at The University of Texas at Austin.