Cheaper biomimetic nanoparticles could be on the cards thanks to researchers at the Houston Methodist Research Institute, Texas, USA. Ennio Tasciotti and his colleagues have shared their recipe so that any laboratory in the world can use it to easily create similar nanoparticles. The work could ultimately lead to a whole new way of delivering pharmaceuticals, for instance.

"We're the only lab in the world doing this," explains Tasciotti, "There are several questions about how our system works, and I can't answer all of them. By giving away the so-called 'recipe' to make biomimetic nanoparticles, a lot of other labs will be able to enter this field and may provide additional solutions and applications that are beyond the reach of only one laboratory. You could say it's the democratization of nanotechnology."

Writing in the journal Advanced Materials, Tasciotti and his colleagues show how to standardize nanoparticle production which allows them to effectively guarantee stability and reproducibility and boost yields. Their approach side-steps the need for costly, high-tech facilities and using readily available and relatively affordable bench top equipment.

"Nanoparticles are generally made through cryptic protocols, and it's very often impossible to consistently or affordably reproduce them," Tasciotti explains. "You usually need special, custom-made equipment or procedures that are available to only a few laboratories. We provide step-by-step instructions so that now everybody can do it."

For most of the history of nanotechnology, particles were made from inorganic and essentially inert materials. However, the need for biologically active and biocompatible nanoparticles has put pressure on scientists to develop nanoparticles from other materials. Tasciotti and his colleagues are pushing the field towards biomimetic nanoparticles that have a composition not dissimilar to the cells of our body and might have physiological functionality that is not inherent in conventional inorganic nanoparticles.

"The body is so smart in the ways it defends itself. The immune system will eventually recognize nanoparticles no matter how well you make them," Tasciotti explains. "In my lab, we make nanoparticles out of the cell membrane of the very same immune cells that patrol the blood stream. When we put these biomimetic, or bioinspired, nanoparticles back in the body, the immune cells do not recognize them as something different, as they're made of their same building blocks, so there is no adverse response." This new type of biomimetic nanoparticle is complex but Tasciotti's recipe for making them is actually incredibly simple, which is part of the reason for publishing the detailed recipe and opening up this avenue of research to other scientists. [E Tasciotti et al Adv Mater (2018); DOI: 10.1002/adma.201702749]

"While our lab will remain fully devoted to this line of research, if somebody else develops some solutions using our protocols that are useful in clinical care, it's still a good outcome," he adds. "After all, the ultimate reason why we are in translational science is for the benefit of the patients."

David Bradley blogs at Sciencebase Science Blog and tweets @sciencebase, he is author of the popular science book "Deceived Wisdom".