Researchers’ precision engineering to target disease

15 Jan 2014
Dr Frank Sainsbury
Dr Frank Sainsbury

Researchers at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology are using nano-engineered oil droplets to target infectious diseases and cancer cells.

The researchers, based at The University of Queensland say the droplets, called nanoemulsions, can effectively target diseased cells and elicit a specific immune response.

A collaboration between Professor Anton Middelberg’s AIBN research group; UQ’s Diamantina InstituteThe Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research; and the Burnet Institute has resulted in a coveted frontispiece in the international journal SMALL.

AIBN's Dr Frank Sainsbury said the journal paper provided “proof of concept for the very precise targeting that can be achieved with the tailorable nanoemulsions”.

He said the emulsion was a delivery device capable of carrying an antigen to CD8+T cells to generate T-cell immune responses, the kind known to be effective against infectious diseases such as influenza, HIV or malaria.

The emulsion addresses challenges with existing targeted therapies, such as a lack of stability, limited cargo capacity and difficulty of manufacture.

It also has the potential to overcome side effects of broad-spectrum treatments such as chemotherapy, which do not typically distinguish between a patient’s cancerous and healthy cells.

The emulsion used surface-active peptides to provide stability during assembly, enabling other peptides carrying antibodies to easily fuse to the surface – the best place from which to effectively target specific cells recognised by these antibodies.

Dr Sainsbury said the emulsion could generate a cellular immune response to fight certain infectious diseases and cancers for which a humoral response alone, involving macromolecules in body fluids, was not effective.

He said there was no theoretical limit to the diseased cells you could target because any antigen from a pathogen or a cancer could be used.

“Any antibody could be used in theory. In the research an antibody was used that recognises a special type of immune cells to deliver an antigen directly to those cells, thereby eliciting the T-cell response.

“Nanoemulsions have a long, safe history in pharmaceutical formulations and our approach brings molecular recognition and targeting capability to emulsion-based delivery.

“This is about efficient targeting. In the case of chemotherapeutics, it will also be about sequestering cytotoxic agents to avoid non-specific interactions with bystander cells and, therefore, reducing toxicity while improving efficacy.”

The emulsion can be used to carry antigens, functional proteins, genes, polymers, small molecules or nucleic acid to the cells of the body with accuracy.