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Making tiny plastic particles to deliver lifesaving medicine

Many medications such as therapeutic DNA, insulin and human growth hormone must enter the body through painful injections, but a Johns Hopkins researcher is seeking to deliver the same treatment without the sting. Justin Hanes wants to pack the drugs inside microscopic plastic spheres that can be inhaled painlessly. Inside the lungs, the particles should dissolve harmlessly, releasing the medicine at a predetermined pace.

"We've made significant progress," said Hanes, an assistant professor in the Whiting School of Engineering's Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, "especially when you consider all of the challenges we've faced in designing and synthesizing these new biomaterials."

For one thing, the polymers used in making such particles must dissolve slowly in the body, releasing the medicine over a prescribed period of hours, days or even weeks. Also, these materials must be strong and flexible, so that the particles do not crack or crumble before delivering their treatment. At the same time, the particles must not stick together, forming clumps that will prevent proper travel through the air passages. Once the particles deposit in the lungs, some therapies will require that they cross the thick mucus lining of air passages prior to releasing their medicinal cargo. Finally, the materials must not trigger a strong immune response, in which the body's natural defense system attacks a particle before it has delivered its dose.

Hanes and his lab colleagues have overcome many of these hurdles, publishing their research results in peer-reviewed journals. Last year, in an issue of "Biomaterials," Hanes' team, including associate research scientist Jie Fu and doctoral candidate Jennifer Fiegel, reported that it had synthesized a new type of porous polymer particles capable of releasing drugs in an environment resembling the deep lungs. Importantly, the components used to create these plastic microspheres were materials already FDA-
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Contact: Phil Sneiderman
prs@jhu.edu
410-516-7160
Johns Hopkins University
26-Sep-2003


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