A molecular biologist and a nanoscientist at the University of Central Florida have found that nanomaterials developed for industry have an unexpected and potentially revolutionary side effect: They can triple or quadruple the life of brain cells.
The result is people could live longer and with fewer age-related health problems
Beverly Rzigalinski, assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology and at the Biomolecular Sciences Center, and Sudipta Seal, associate engineering professor at the Advanced Materials Processing and Analysis Center and the Department of Mechanical, Materials and Aerospace Engineering, will receive $1.4 million from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging to study the reasons behind the reaction and possible future applications.
Rzigalinski has spent the bulk of her career on NIH-funded research from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke studying how brain cells "talk" to each other, most recently focusing on microglia — a specialized cell that responds to brain injury and initiates the response to either repair or destroy the damaged neuron. Seal creates nanostructure materials and recently developed a process for engineering particles on a nanoscale — so they might have more efficient industrial applications.
Because of the current flurry of publicity that anti-oxidants have received for their potential anti-aging properties, Rzigalinski decided to explore introducing the miniaturized particles to the brain cells of rats.
"In culture, rat brain cells usually live about three weeks," Rzigalinski said. "The cells exposed to the engineered nanoparticles lived three to four times longer."
To confirm the results, Rzigalinski, the grant’s principal investigator, repeated the process multiple times and found that cells exposed to a single dose of engineered nano-oxide particles routinely outlived the untreated cells by three- to four-fold, with the longest living cell lasting 123 days.
Rzigalinski then explored the quality of the aged neurons and found they were signaling or "talking" to each other in the same manner as their youthful counterparts.
"This shows there is a potential not just to extend the life span but to preserve function," she said.
Seal has worked on developing oxide particles for high temperature production since his undergraduate days in the late 1980s. In 2000, as he took over the coordination of UCF’s nanotechnology initiative, he and a student developed ultrafine nano-sized powders and solutions. The particles, less than 10 nanometers (about 30 atoms) in size, not only offered a more efficient coating for use in machines but also opened the door for biological studies in collaboration with Rzigalinski.
When a university research administrator aware of the work of each scientist introduced the two, the possibilities immediately began forming. "This type of cross-disciplinary partnership is what we dream about," said Pallavoor Vaidyanathan, assistant vice president for research. It is also critical to forging frontiers in nanoscience.
Research in the medical profession suggests that a major component of aging is free radical damage to cells. Free radical scavengers, often taken in the form of vitamins, can counter the damage to a very limited degree. A regenerative nanoparticle, such as the one developed by Rzigalinski and Seal, offers promise of negating those problems and could be helpful in treatment of certain age-related disorders — such as Alzheimer’s disease — as well as arthritis and other joint-related problems, Rzigalinski says.
Most recently, the Rzigalinski lab has found that the nanoparticles have potent anti-inflammatory properties. The investigators plan to explore the possibility of creating a coating from the particles that could be used for vascular and orthopedic implants, stents and other devices that are prone to inflammatory reactions.
Initial tests show that the nanoparticle anti-oxidants regenerate once they penetrate the cell — meaning one dose could conceivably continue its therapeutic effects indefinitely.
Rzigalinski introduced the collaboration to her colleagues at the NATURE biotechnology symposium in Miami earlier this year. She has also submitted an abstract on the project to the National and International Neurotrauma Symposium, and Society for Neuroscience.
Nanotechnology is considered the new frontier of science, and it could revolutionize modern medicine in the future. The potential for creating new materials at a size capable of being absorbed by human cells calls for a new type of scientist — one who can collaborate across seemingly unrelated disciplines. Combining the fields of biomolecular science with engineering offers a significant step in that direction.
Pappachan Kolattukudy, director of UCF’s Biomolecular Science Center and a consultant on the project, said the collaboration is part of a strategy that UCF is going to be using increasingly in building its presence in the biomolecular sciences.
"We are concentrating on building interfaces between areas in which we have strengths," Kolattukudy said.
Vimal Desai, director of AMPAC, said that nanomaterials are currently considered highly strategic for important applications ranging from homeland security to just plain good health.
"It is so good to be able to build bridges for an interdisciplinary effort through competent and dynamic researchers at UCF," Desai said.