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Nanoworms and rods are the most effective drug delivery vessels so far

Nanoparticles come in many shapes and sizes, including spheres, chains, reefs, and boxes, and more. When it comes to drug delivery, however, rods and worms are the most effective forms, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Though the field of medical nanotech is still in its infancy, nanoparticles are already being used by doctors to overcome biological barriers, navigate cellular environments, and deliver anticancer drugs and vaccines deep into our bodies.

“There weren’t any tools to quantify why and how certain nanoparticle properties target their cargo.”

“There is so much work on how to modulate nanoparticle size, shape, and surface chemistry, and the impact this has on overall drug delivery efficacy, that is starting to look really promising,” Dr. Justin Gooding, University of New South Wales (UNSW) researcher and co-author of the study, told Digital Trends. “People are beginning to work out the design rules for these particles but we realized there weren’t any tools to quantify why and how certain nanoparticle properties target their cargo to certain cell types or organelles.”

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Along with the UNSW team, Gooding set out to establish tools by which other researchers could test how well their nanoparticles navigate the body and make them more effective as drug delivery vessels — so his team developed a new method to track the nanoparticles and quantify how cells impact their transit.

In the study, the researchers labeled four nanoparticle shapes — rod, worms, and two spheres — with different fluorescent colors and measured how effectively the nanoparticles navigated cells.

They found that nanorods and nano worms passed cellular barriers via simple diffusion while the spherical shapes did not.

“Our results suggest that rod and worm-shaped nanoparticles are more effective at obtaining access to the nucleus because their dimensions allow for translocation across the nuclear pore complex by passive diffusion,” Gooding said, “as opposed to micelles and vesicles [the spheres] which appear to only gain access during cell division.”

The results of this study and the new microscopy method developed by the UNSW team may help scientists target certain cell types more effectively, designing nanoparticle systems to perform specific tasks while testing their designs for efficiency.