Malaysian researchers are collaborating with experts at Harvard University with the aim of revolutionizing lung disease treatment through the application of nanomedicine in sites of difficult access. The goal of the five-year collaboration is to develop an effective and safe approach to tackle lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer.
Patients with lung cancer and COPD, the progressive, irreversible obstruction of airways, are normally treated with chemotherapeutic compounds and corticosteroids, which are misted into a spray and inhaled, allowing a direct lung delivery and a rapid therapeutic effect. But most of these treatments are deposited in the upper respiratory tract because the particles in the inhalers are too large to travel further.
Harvard researchers, within the university’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, are developing nanoparticles that are able to deliver accurate levels of drugs to the deepest areas of the lung, a process that might be assisted by using magnetic fields.
The Malaysian team will help to guarantee the safety and improve the efficacy of the nanoparticles. It will evaluate how the nanoparticles act in the body, where the drug accumulates, and how the drug interacts with target and non-target cells.
The research, led by Joseph Brain, the Cecil K. and Philip Drinker Professor of Environmental Physiology, draws upon Harvard’s extensive knowledge in biokinetics — which means determining how to administer drugs to attain the appropriate dosage that will have an effect on target cells and evaluating the degree to which the nanoparticles loaded with drug agents pass through the organs’ biological barriers.
The experiments are also based on years of expertise on the biology of macrophages – cells that engulf and digest cellular debris, foreign substances, microbes, and cancer cells as part of the human immune system.
Inhaled nanomedicine will potentially help clinicians to prevent and treat lung conditions such as COPD, lung cancer, and lung diseases associated with bacteria and viruses. The nanoparticles can reach the target area faster than oral or intravenous medicines.
“Experiments have demonstrated that a drug dose administered directly to the respiratory tract achieves much higher local drug concentrations at the target site,” Brain said in a news release.
Globally, COPD affects more than 235 million individuals and the disease rates are rising. Estimations indicate that 80 percent of all cases of COPD are caused by cigarette smoking. By the year 2030, COPD is projected to be the third leading cause of death worldwide.
The research partnership with Harvard University is one of the several collaborations ongoing at the Malaysia Institute for Innovative Nanotechnology, launched in 2013 through Malaysia’s Global Science & Innovation Advisory Council, led by YAB Prime Minister Dato’ Sri Najib Razak.
Nanotechnology involves manipulating matter on an atomic, molecular, and supramolecular scale. Based at the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, NanoMITe aims to be involved in international scientific research partnerships to enhance ideas, experience and products to help society.
“Nanotechnology is making a significant impact on healthcare by delivering improvements in disease diagnosis and monitoring, as well as enabling new approaches to regenerative medicine and drug delivery,” said Prof. Zakri Abdul Hamid, science advisor to the Malaysian prime minister. “Malaysia, through NanoMITe, is proud and excited to join the Harvard team and contribute to the creation of these life-giving innovations.”