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Scientists at the University of Liverpool have been awarded £1.7 million to investigate how nanotechnology could be used to improve the effectiveness of pharmaceutical drugs.
Nanotechnology involves the manipulation of matter at sizes close to molecular level to produce particles that are small clusters of molecules. The collaborative project between the Departments of Chemistry and Pharmacology will apply nanotechnology techniques to develop new approaches for future drug development.
Many medicines currently in use have poor solubility and have to be administered in large doses to ensure that enough of the drug is absorbed into the body to be effective. Scientists, working closely with industry experts, will investigate the possibility of creating viable drugs in nanoparticle form – each particle being approximately 1/800th the width of a human hair. By examining how successfully they can be absorbed into the intestine, and in what form they pass into the bloodstream, they will also look to establish if nanotechnology can reduce the toxicity of drugs by using smaller doses without losing effect.
The project will focus on the HIV virus – the incurable disease that can lead to AIDS. There are more than 20 HIV medicines already on the market, which aim to prevent AIDS by ensuring that the disease cannot replicate uncontrollably in the body. It is important to maintain efficacy while avoiding excessively high or low doses that allow the development of resistance to the drugs. HIV drugs are a lifelong commitment and the doses currently needed have significant associated toxicity when administered over a lifetime. Complications include heart problems, osteoporosis and visible fat redistribution.
Professor Steve Rannard, from the University’s Department of Chemistry, said: “Control of matter on this nano-scale is gathering global interest and several new nano-medicines are now commercially available. Our approach will use existing drugs but will focus on changing their size rather than their chemistry. We aim to control their activity and the ability to target the drug to areas where the virus is usually inaccessible.
“Our close collaboration with industry partners and advisors will ensure that we maximise the opportunities available through nanotechnology and, more importantly, that we improve current methods of healthcare for the benefit of patients.”
Dr Andrew Owen, from the University’s Department of Pharmacology, said: “We aim to improve the activity of currently available drugs but safety is at the forefront of this research, which involves the Medical Research Council Centre for Drug Safety Science.
“We will explore the hypothesis that less medicine is needed in nano-form and hope to prove that creating nano-drugs could enhance their ability to kill the HIV virus while reducing their toxicity. We will look closely at how much of each drug gets into the bloodstream and into different cells and hope to confirm that the nano-medicines are not toxic to their target cells or to the body as a whole.”
The three-year project will be undertaken in collaboration with industry partners Astra Zeneca; Merck, Sharpe and Dohm; Gillead; Abbott; and Iota NanoSolutions.
The funding, awarded by Research Councils UK, forms one area of the Nanotechnology Grand Challenges scheme – designed to investigate how nanotechnology could be beneficial to a range of areas such as health, energy and the environment.
1. Research Councils UK invest in science and research, in order to advance knowledge and generate new ideas which can be used to create wealth and drive improvements in quality of life. Each Research Council funds research and training activities in a different area of research ranging across the arts and humanities, social sciences, engineering and physical sciences and the medical and life sciences.
2. The University of Liverpool is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive institutions in the UK. It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organisations valued at more than £93 million annually.
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