Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science and Penn’s Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics have figured out a way to provide a “passport” for such therapeutic devices, enabling them to get past the body’s security system.
The innate immune system attacks foreign bodies in a general way. Unlike the learned response of the adaptive immune system, which includes the targeted antibodies that are formed after a vaccination, the innate immune system tries to destroy everything it doesn’t recognize as being part of the body.
This response has many cellular components, including macrophages — literally “big eaters” — that find, engulf and destroy invaders. Proteins in blood serum work in tandem with macrophages; they adhere to objects in the blood stream and draw macrophages’ attention. If the macrophage determines these proteins are stuck to a foreign invader, they will eat it or signal other macrophages to form a barrier around it.
Drug-delivery nanoparticles naturally trigger this response, so researchers’ earlier attempts to circumvent it involved coating the particles with polymer “brushes.” These brushes stick out from the nanoparticle and attempt to physically block various blood serum proteins from sticking to its surface.
However, these brushes only slow down the macrophage-signaling proteins, so Discher and colleagues tried a different approach: Convincing the macrophages that the nanoparticles were part of the body and shouldn’t be cleared.
The research team’s experiments used a mouse model to demonstrate better imaging of tumors and as well as improved efficacy of an anti-cancer drug-delivery particle.
As this minimal peptide might one day be attached to a wide range of drug-delivery vehicles, the researchers also attached antibodies of the type that could be used in targeting cancer cells or other kinds of diseased tissue. Beyond a proof of concept for therapeutics, these antibodies also served to attract the macrophages’ attention and ensure the minimal peptide’s passport was being checked and approved.
The test of this minimal peptide’s efficacy was in mice that were genetically modified so their macophages had SIRPa receptors similar to the human version. The researchers injected two kinds of nanoparticles — ones carrying the peptide passport and ones without — and then measured how fast the mice’s immune systems cleared them.
Even giving therapeutic nanoparticles an additional half-hour before they are eaten by macrophages could be a major boon for treatments. Such nanoparticles might need to make a few trips through the macrophage-heavy spleen and liver to find their targets, but they shouldn’t stay in the body indefinitely. Other combinations of exterior proteins might be appropriate for more permanent devices, such as pacemaker leads, enabling them to hide from the immune system for longer periods of time.
While more research is necessary before such applications become a reality, reducing the peptide down to a sequence of only a few amino acids was a critical step. The relative simplicity of this passport molecule to be more easily synthesized makes it a more attractive component for future therapeutics.
This story is reprinted from material from University of Pennsylvania, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.