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Nanotechnology Could Assist in the Treatment of Respiratory Tract Infections

A new review paper looks at the use of nanoparticles in the treatment of respiratory illness.

Nanotechnology Could Assist in the Treatment of Respiratory Tract Infections

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The respiratory tract is frequently exposed to elements in the atmosphere like bacteria, viruses, and even fungi, pathogens that can cause upper respiratory tract infections that must be treated with antibiotics and other medicines.

The most serious risk of upper respiratory tract infections  —  the nose or nostrils, nasal cavity, mouth, throat (pharynx), and voice box (larynx)  —  come when they spread lower in the body. Should such infections hit the lungs, they can cause serious illness and even death. 

These lower respiratory tract infections and conditions like asthma, lung cancer, tuberculosis, and cystic fibrosis, don’t just pose a health risk and present a considerable burden to health care providers, but they also represent a significant economic burden.

One of the reasons that lower respiratory infections are so difficult to treat arises because drugs are not easily delivered to the lower areas of the lungs. The situation is compounded by these lower-lying bacteria finding themselves encased in bio-films and thick mucus. 

Cracking these naturally acquired defenses to hit bacteria currently requires high doses of antibiotics administered either orally or intravenously, but what if drugs could be delivered directly to the area where they are needed?

A new review paper published in the Journal of Nanosciences Research & Reports looks at the development of nanotechnology to deliver medicines directly to low-lying bacteria hitting the infection at the source. The authors point out that the development of nanotechnologies that are biocompatible and can act as drug vectors could be a massive boon in the treatment of respiratory disease.

Characterizing Nanoparticles in the Respiratory System

The first step in the development of a nanotech approach to the treatment of respiratory illness is characterizing the ideal nanoparticles for effective targeted drug delivery. The researchers considered the qualities of nanoparticles that need to be considered for inhalation and interaction with epithelial cells  —  the cells that line the surface of the body. 

Amongst the characteristics that the team identified as being particularly important are size, shape, surface charges and wettability. These qualities convey a wide range of benefits. 

The surface charge of a nanoparticle determines how it will interact with cell membranes in the body, with weak charges seeming to be a better choice for drug delivery. 

The shape of nanoparticles is also a quality that has direct consequences for cell interactions. Past studies have revealed spherical-shaped nanoparticles more conductive than particles with other shapes. On the other hand, rod-like nanoparticles seem to penetrate cells better and seem to result in fewer adverse effects.

It’s probably not much of a surprise to learn that smaller nanoparticles also seem to penetrate biological barriers more effectively than larger nanoparticles. Despite this, the authors add that cellular uptake of nanoparticles appears to be independent of size. 

Wettability in nanoparticles seemed to be associated with different treatment results. The team said nanogels made from polymers that become liquids easier seem to be good at inhibiting immune response. 

Beyond the characteristics of nanoparticles and their effects, the team also looked at an array of different particles for drug delivery, including liposomes with different levels of solubility and an associated reduction in toxicity, and macromolecule polymers for use in the creation of supports to assist in the delivery of therapeutic and diagnostic agents. 

The Most Important Steps are Yet to Come

What is clear from the study is that nanotechnology will undoubtedly play a role in the administration of drugs, in the process, overcoming a range of issues that exist with current medicines. And the treatment of respiratory infection will be one of the areas that significantly benefit from the advancement of nanotech. 

What is less clear is which nanoparticles will provide the most efficient and effective interventions. To figure this out, the authors of this review conclude that these nanotech measures are still very much in the early stages of development. 

While preclinical trials have shown the potential of nanotech in the treatment of respiratory infection by characterizing their qualities, the trials that will yield the most important results have barely begun, with clinical efficacy a long way from validation. 

The researchers conclude by suggesting that future research should focus on aspects of nanomedicine, such as changes in nontherapeutic performance, molecular mechanisms and potential toxicity during treatment.


1. Prajapati. B., Varia. U., [2021], ‘Nano Science in Pulmonary Drug Delivery,’ Journal of Nanosciences Research & Reports, []

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Robert Lea

Written by

Robert Lea

Robert is a Freelance Science Journalist with a STEM BSc. He specializes in Physics, Space, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Quantum Physics, and SciComm. Robert is an ABSW member, and aWCSJ 2019 and IOP Fellow.


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