Study: Laser-controlled cellular drug delivery shows promise

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Researchers from U.K. and Germany have used a laser to release peptides from microcapsules introduced into cells, according to a study published in the October issue of the journal Small.

Gleb Sukhorukov, PhD, an investigator on the project and a professor in the department of materials at the London-based Queen Mary, University of London said, "You can keep the capsules in the body for a while, and then you switch [on] the light to release them."

Once a method for directing the capsules to the right cells has been developed, the capsules could be used for administering drugs at the site of surgery a few weeks after an operation, without having to open up the patient again.

The capsules were introduced into cultured cells by electric shock. “Getting the peptides into the cells was only the first step," said the lead author of the study, Sebastian Springer, PhD, professor of biochemistry and cell biology at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany. "We decided that we would see whether this peptide would get picked up by [the] immune system and treated like a normal intracellular peptide that was natural to the cell," Springer said.

The team found that the peptide bound to major histocompatibility complex class I proteins and elicited their cell surface transport.

Naomi Halas, PhD, professor of chemistry and director of the laboratory for nanophotonics at Rice University in Houston described the European microcapsule work as "very important research," because of two reasons. First, it shows that peptides can be successfully delivered into living cells and secondly, the light-release approach could be useful in looking at various cellular functions in a quantitative way.

A 3D movie of a living cell (shown in green) with engineered capsules inside (shown in red) is available at MIT Technology Review.