In work that could at the same time impact the delivery of drugs and explain a biological mystery, MIT engineers have created the first synthetic nanoparticles that can penetrate a cell without poking a hole in its protective membrane and killing it.
The team found that gold nanoparticles coated with alternating bands of two different kinds of molecules can quickly pass into cells without harming them, while those randomly coated with the same materials cannot. The research was reported in a recent advance online publication of Nature Materials.
“We’ve created the first fully synthetic material that can pass through a cell membrane without rupturing it, and we’ve found that order on the nanometer scale is necessary to provide this property,” said Francesco Stellacci, an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and co-leader of the work with Darrell Irvine, the Eugene Bell Career Development Associate Professor of Tissue Engineering.
In addition to the practical applications of such nanoparticles for drug delivery and more, the MIT team used them to deliver fluorescent imaging agents to cells, the tiny spheres could help explain how some biological materials such as peptides are able to enter cells.
“No one understands how these biologically derived cell-penetrating materials work,” said Irvine. “So we could use the new particles to learn more about their biological counterparts. Could they be analogues of the biological system?”
Elizabeth A. Thomson