Fundamental research from the US suggests that an enzyme could convert sugars in the presence of olive oil to form organic gels called 'nano organogels'.
These organic gel nanomaterials could be used to encapsulate pharmaceutical products to create new drug delivery systems, as well as being used to build 3D biocompatible scaffolds for tissue engineering and designing membranes, according to Professor Jonathan Dordick and co-workers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York who conducted the research.
"The development of new materials that are molecularly defined and chemically functional at the nanoscale is of critical importance to biological applications such as drug delivery," said Dordick.
The science behind the gels entailed using the enzyme lipase B from Candida antarctica (CALB) to form esters of trehalose, a sugar found naturally in mushrooms, honey, lobster and shrimp.
The trehalose diesters then self-assemble into 3-D fibres measuring between 10 and 50 nanometers in diameter. As the fibres entangle, a large amount of solvent gets packed together, trapping some 10,000 molecules.
Disintegration of the gels could occur, said the researchers, by re-exposure to lipase, an enzyme that is naturally present in the human intestine.
This research opens up the possibility that active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) could be encompassed in the trehalose nano-gels, with release dependent on re-exposure to the enzyme.
Dordick believes that the importance of his team's finding is the ability to use the same naturally occurring enzyme both to create chemically functional organogels and to reverse the process and break down these gels into their biologically compatible building blocks.
"We are using the building blocks provided by nature to create new nanomaterials that are completely reversible and environmentally benign, eliminating the need to generate new compounds that may be harmful to the body or environment," said Dordick.
In addition to olive oil, researchers also successfully tested the trehalose esters in a six other organic solvents, including acetonitrile, acetone, isopropanol, ethyl acetate, however, Dordick and his colleagues found that longer ester-chain trehalose derivatives could form gels in olive oil with relatively low minimum gelation concentrations.
The researchers did try other sugars, including sucrose, maltose and lactose, but gels were only formed in the presence of trehalose.
The findings are currently available online in advance of print publication July 17 by the journal Angewandte Chemie.