Since it first began to emerge in the late 1970s, nanotechnology has been hailed as the next step in fields as disparate as water treatment and mechanical engineering. While in general the development of such technology has been slow, in medicine the ability to create and manipulate nanoscale particles is beginning to revolutionize the production and delivery of drugs, particularly in terms of targeted therapeutics. One example of such work is research being conducted by scientists at the University of Portsmouth, in the UK. The three-year project, which is funded by a £451,000 ($880,000) grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, is using polymer-based nanoparticles to modify a naturally occurring peptide capable of creating temporary openings in the blood-brain barrier, allowing for improved drug delivery. Project leader Dr Eugen Barbu and colleagues will develop particles of approximately one thousandth the width of a single human hair that are able to both breach the blood-brain barrier and act as a delivery container for the medications. Dr Barbu explained that the team had chosen to work with natural polymers due to their lack of toxicity and ability to biodegrade. If successful, the work could potentially improve treatment options for a wide range of conditions. For example, while the efficacy of therapies for a variety of cancers have been gradually improving over recent years, particularly with the advent of targeted antibody-based medications such as Roche/Genentech's Herceptin (trastuzumab) and ImClone Systems' Erbitux (cetuximab; sold by Merck Serono and Bristol-Myers Squibb), the development of treatments for cancers of the brain has fallen behind. One of the major stumbling blocks hindering such work is the difficulty in delivering drugs to the brain through the blood brain barrier. The barrier acts as a filter that allows the passage of red blood cells to the brain, while preventing the passage of other molecules, including many chemotherapeutic agents. Prof Darek Gorecki, who will be working alongside Dr Barbu, said: "the BBSRC thought it was worth investing half a million pounds because though other scientists are studying ways of penetrating the blood brain barrier, this idea of using modified natural polymers is novel." He cautioned however that the work is still at an experimental stage and is unlikely to have a direct impact on drug delivery for some time. Prof Gorecki added that: "we are hoping that by using modified polymers working in various ways we can generate a temporary opening in the cells of the blood brain barrier and allow drugs to be delivered straight to the brain." The hope is that in the future such a nanoparticle-based delivery approach can improve the delivery of therapy for a broad spectrum of brain disorders ranging from stroke to Alzheimer's.