November 11, 2008

Cells Designed To Carry Custom Rucksacks

A team of scientists has developed polymer rucksacks for individual cells that may usher in new tailor-made treatments as well as advanced body imaging.

When these rucksacks are filled with magnetic nanoparticles they can be manipulated with magnets, which may enable them to carry drugs or imaging agents to specific parts of the body, researchers report in Nano Letters.

By using live, native cells, the approach can make use of the cells' natural functions while taking along a custom payload.

"We're trying to utilize what nature has already perfected," said co-author Albert Swiston, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, US.

Using so-called polymer multilayer technology, scientists start with a patterned surface that allows polymer layers to be built up only in specific areas.

Scientists then add three polymer layers onto the surface. One layer sticks to cell walls, one carried the rucksack's payload and the last layer acts as a sheath.

By raising the temperature of the mixture, the rucksacks are made to disconnect from the surface, leaving the cells floating around with their new cargo.

Scientists used this process to fill the rucksacks with magnetic nanoparticles, which can be manipulated by magnetic fields. Scientists believe this may enable the process of directing cells to particular sites in the body for advanced imaging in the body.

For the study, scientists allowed the rucksacks to be carried by lymphocytes "“ white blood cells in the vertebrae immune system.

"Immune system cells can be primed to go to specific places in the body," said Swiston. "We could load them with drugs or chemotherapy agents, and immune cells love to travel to tumors or sites of inflammation or trauma."

Among many applications, researchers said the treatment could even be used in the future to target specific regions of the body with tailor-made vaccines.

"We haven't even thought of all the applications yet," said Swiston, "and I think there's a whole lot more out there".


Image 1: MIT researchers have developed a technique to attach tiny polymer "backpacks" to cells. This immune system cells, a B lymphocyte sports one. The scale bar is 10 micrometers. Image courtesy / American Chemical Society

Image 2: This T cell also has a polymer backpack. The scale bar is 10 micrometers. Image courtesy / American Chemical Society


On the Net: