The new system is based on the use of nanoparticles as 'cluster bombs' to deliver active drugs into the lung with unprecedented reliability. The technology is still in its infancy, but has proven effective in treating cancerous lung cells in vitro, according to a study in the International Journal of Pharmaceuticals.
The nanoparticles are designed to be delivered in powder form via a standard inhaler device, such as an asthmatic might use. The researchers, from the University of Alabama in the US, used a spray-drying technique to make nanoscale particles using lactose and gelatine or polybutylcyanoacrylate.
They were able to manufacture powders made up of different varieties of nanoparticles - for example some that were hollow and others that formed a matrix structure - of a size that should be suitable for delivery using an inhaler.
Moreover, experiments suggest that when the powder arrives in the lungs, it will dissolve into nanoparticles upon contact with moisture in the lung. The nanoparticles could potentially be engineered to do a number of things, such as evade the immune system or target specific cells, or be delivered to a particular area of the lung.
"Based on what we've been able to do so far, we have practical hopes that a new lung delivery platform for lung cancer can be established," said Dr Raimar Loebenberg, a professor of pharmacy at UA.
The research team are planning to conduct in vivo tests early this year, with plans for clinical trials in humans to follow, and have already filed a patent on the delivery system.