Peptide ‘nanodrills’ to deliver anticancer drugs into cells

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

Scientists have developed synthetic peptide ‘nanodrills' to pierce cell membranes and deliver molecular drugs.

The intracellular drug delivery technology – details of which were published by Oregon State University and Oregon Health & Science University in the Journal of Controlled Release​ – employs nanotechnology to penetrate cells.

Researcher Ashwani Kumar told us the technology can be used to deliver a number of hydrophobic products, such as anticancer, antitubercular, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal drugs.

The nanodrills are engineered, self-assembling peptides that have a well-defined shape – or “drill-bit” – and a cell penetrating peptide over the surface.

“The self-assembling segment acts as a hydrophobic core to a variety of lipophilic small molecules and drugs which can be loaded with ​>90% encapsulation efficiency,” Kumar explained.

When transecting cells in-vitro​, the team found the nanodrills easily entered the cells, and efficiently administered the payload.  

“With different experimental techniques, we showed the presence of cell penetrating transactivator of transcription [TAT] peptide – over the surface in its native form is responsible for crossing the cell membrane.

“We also observed potent ​in-vivo delivery in mouse models demonstrating high localisation in liver within just two hours of IV injection,” ​he added.


The researchers synthesized the nanodrills using solid-phase peptide synthesis.

“This technique is manual, simple economic and scalable which does not require any specialized instruments and gives the desired peptides with good yield and purity,” ​Kumar explained.

To characterize the synthetic peptides, the researchers used different spectral – mass, circular dichroism, fluorescence – and microscopic analysis – atomic force microscopy – which demonstrated nanodrill morphology, he added.


According to Kumar, the technology is cost-efficient.  

The manual synthesis method consumes fewer reagents than automated peptide synthesizers, he told us, adding: “We could observe the formation of nanodrills with concentration as low as 200 micro molar solution of peptides.”

The researchers have filed a provisional patent, and hope to license out the technology.

Related topics: Drug Delivery, Delivery technologies

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