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New Vehicle For Drug Delivery

by Amanda Yarnell
January 27, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 4

One provocative suggested use for aerogels comes from pharmaceutical researchers, who are investigating aerogels for drug delivery. In this application, pharmaceutically active compounds fill the aerogel’s many pores. The drug-containing aerogel can then be functionalized to seek specific disease cells and release the drug.

For example, in a 2011 patent application (U.S. Patent Application No. 20110086100), researchers describe a drug delivery mechanism that uses polyethylene glycol (PEG) aerogel particles rather than the more traditional silica-based aerogels. Although this application focuses on delivering small-molecule cancer therapies, it also describes the targeted delivery of biologics such as insulin.

Ligands on a drug-loaded aerogel particle target the particle to disease cells, where it releases its therapeutic contents.
Scheme shows how an aerogel binds to a target cell, then releases drug to the surrounding area.
Ligands on a drug-loaded aerogel particle target the particle to disease cells, where it releases its therapeutic contents.

The researchers begin with highly porous PEG aerogel particles with an average diameter of 2 µm, which are then coated with a protein called epidermal growth factor. Because cancer cells overexpress receptors that recognize this protein, the coated aerogel particles home in on cancer cells. The coating helps the aerogel get its drug cargo to intended cancer sites rather than indiscriminately delivering it to cells.

PEG aerogels are nontoxic and biocompatible, making them attractive drug delivery vehicles. What’s more, chemotherapeutic substances that are poorly soluble in water are readily incorporated in high concentration in PEG aerogels.

PatentPicks is a collaborative effort by C&EN and CAS. This feature reports on trends CAS scientists observe in the CAS databases of patents, which now generate more than 70% of the new substances appearing in the literature.


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