Mingjun Zhang, PhD & D.Sc., and professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at The Ohio State University told us that the technique will help develop more specific and effective drugs to meet different patients' needs - because they can “track” them.
“As the result, treatments can be made more personalized, tracked in real-time and with less side-effects,” he added.
The development is important because a key step in realizing personalized medicine is determining how drugs work at the molecular level. “This technique showed it is feasible,” said Zhang.
The technique builds off Nobel Prize-winning research (circa 2008) during which scientists discovered that they could illuminate cellular-level activity.
However, these traditional techniques have used quickly fading dyes and toxic elements, such as metals.
The new organic method combines a luminescent molecule (a peptide made up of two amino acids) with the commonly-used cancer medication, doxorubicin. Zhang described it as a “lighting drug.”
The “lightning drug” works by illuminating the medication’s arrival within cells. Once lit-up, scientists would be able to watch the fluorescent signal with an optical detection system, giving them insight into how the cells and drug interact.
“Maybe for some people a drug is taking effect in a few minutes and for somebody else it’s hours and for somebody else it never takes effect,” explained Zhang.
Additionally, the method is advantageous because it behaves naturally and doesn't cause the body any harm.
"Composed of natural amino acids, the nanoparticle is inherently biocompatible,” said Zhang. Our biological machines can easily take care of it."
While the work is currently being done in petri dishes, the next step is to apply the technique to different drug types and to conduct animal studies.
“We have some more exciting results currently under review for publication that will bring us more close to applications.”