Nano technique reveals how drug molecules behave in cells

Nanoscale virus

Researchers have made it possible to see at the nano level where a medicinal drug ends up in the cells and how much of it is needed for optimum treatment. 

The technique enables the development of new pharmaceuticals and tailored treatments for diseases that have not previously been treatable. The advance also makes it necessary for drug designers to consider how their molecules behave inside the cell. 

“Without needing to add anything to affect the cell, we can produce unique precision at the nano level. That is not possible with comparable methods that are currently in use,” said Per Malmberg, Director of the Infrastructure and Senior Researcher in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology. 

The new method is described in a whitepaper. It is based on the NanoSIMS (nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry) instrument developed by CAMECA, which can measure and image molecules at high resolution on the nanoscale and has been available at the Chemical Imaging Infrastructure since 2015. 

“Compared with similar techniques, the NanoSIMS methodology provides much faster and more accurate answers. With our technique, a drug project can receive an answer within about four weeks, and there are good opportunities to reduce the time even further,” added Malmberg. 

In the long term, the technique could also be used to investigate what happens in individual cells in an organ where the drug is expected to act. This could provide a key to a deeper understanding of, for example, neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS or Parkinson’s disease, and cancer.  

The team included researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, in collaboration with AstraZeneca, AstraZeneca’s BioVentureHub and CAMECA. 

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