World-first: Drug molecules in the human body can now be manipulated by light

The innovation was inspired by the measles virus.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Untitled design (51).jpg
Representational image of the measles virus.

Design Cells/iStock 

In a world-first, researchers at Tel Aviv University have conceived of a way to control the encapsulation and release of drug molecules by exposure to UV light, according to a press release by the institution published on Monday.   

The scientists now hope that this new efficient encapsulation will allow for the high loading capacity of molecules leading to further development of delivery systems for the controlled release of biomolecules and drugs in the body by external stimuli using light.

"Our goal was to engineer liquid-like compartments from a complex of peptide and RNA molecules that will enable efficient encapsulation of various biomolecules while keeping their native structure," explained  Dr. Ayala Lampel from the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research at The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences at Tel Aviv University. 

Viral factories

"The designed peptide and RNA form liquid-like compartments that resemble viral factories. We further developed these compartments to be stimuli-responsive by incorporating a protecting group to the peptide sequence that is cleaved following UV irradiation."

The researchers found that once exposed to UV light the compartments could be easily controlled. 

"The peptide with the photocleavable protecting group forms compartments with RNA that have higher encapsulation efficiency for various molecules compared to compartments without the protecting group. We showed that by exposing the compartments to UV light and releasing the protecting group, we can control the release of encapsulated biomolecules," Lampel said.

And there were even more advantages. 

World-first: Drug molecules in the human body can now be manipulated by light
Dr. Ayala Lampel.

"Another unique property of this system is the high permeability and loading capacity of the encapsulated molecules, which is limited in part of the current technologies," added Lampel. 

"Thus, this technology opens opportunities for biomedical and biotechnological applications including encapsulation, delivery and release of drugs, protein, antibodies or other therapeutic molecules."

Inspired by the measles virus

The new technology was inspired by viral compartments formed by the measles virus. Once this virus has infected the host cell, it proceeds to form compartments that host all the reactions involved in the formation of new viral particles, a process that gives these compartments their name: viral factories. Recent research indicates that these viral factories are in fact dynamic and liquid-like structures that are formed inside the host cell through a process called liquid-liquid phase separation.

In October 2020, researchers conceived of a similar but robotic way to deliver drugs to the human body. Scientists at Purdue University invented a rectangular microbot just the size of a few human hairs that could rush through the human colon by jumping around and delivering drug therapy where it was needed most.

The novel invention would allow drugs to be administered only on their intended target site avoiding nefarious side effects such as hair loss or stomach bleeding. The microbot was too tiny to carry a battery, so it was wirelessly controlled via a magnetic field.

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