By Will Soutter
Researchers at the University of Louisville's School of Medicine have created lipid nanoparticles from grapefruit. The natural nanoparticles will act as a non-toxic drug delivery agent for genetic and anti-cancer therapies.
The health benefits of grapefruits and other citrus fruits are in no doubt. Now, however, University of Louisville scientists are using the fruit to create potentially revolutionary drug delivery agents.
In a paper published in Nature Communications, the team described their method for producing lipid nanoparticles derived from grapefruits. The use of lipid nanoparticles for delivering active agents into the body is already well described, both in novel medical techniques and in cosmetics, but using bio-derived lipids is a new approach.
Benefits across the board
The UoL researchers believe, however, that using natural edible-derived materials will reduce the risk for patients, as well as reducing the amount of harmful waste generated during production compared to synthetic materials.
There are also financial benefits in addition to the health and environmental considerations, as Prof. Huang-Ge Zhang, one of the lead researchers on the project, explained.
Prof. Huang-Ge Zhang
"These nanoparticles, which we’ve named grapefruit-derived nanovectors (GNVs), are much cheaper to produce at large scale than nanoparticles made from synthetic materials. Our GNVs can be modified to target specific cells – we can use them like missiles to carry a variety of therapeutic agents for the purpose of destroying diseased cells, and we can do this at an affordable price."
The economics of the manufacturing process was an important consideration during the development of GNVs. The researchers investigated a number of different fruits as a potential source of the lipids, including tomatoes and grapes. Grapefruit was chosen as the most viable option, however, due to the high level of lipids available in the fruit, making the extraction process much more efficient.
Initial trials of the new nanomaterial have been promising - animal trials showed less severe side effects with GNVs than with synthetic lipids. A Phase 1 human trial for colon cancer patients is underway, and results are very promising so far.
The patients in the trial were taking grapefruit nanoparticle-encapsulated curcumin, which is used as an anti-inflammatory agent. Given the success of the trial, future research is planned to investigate whether GNVs could be used to help treat inflammation-related diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
In the future however, the GNVs could be used to deliver all sorts of therapeutic drugs - they have been shown effectively encapsulate a wide variety of active agents, including antibodies, genetic material, and chemotherapy drugs.
The concept of using bio-derived materials to create drug delivery systems is a very positive step for medical research. The health benefits of GNVs over synthetic materials which are manifesting in the trials will help regulators and the general public to distinguish health concerns over nanomaterials from concerns over synthetic materials in general.