The system is based on the topical delivery of gene regulation technology, primarily for the treatment of skin cancer, but the scientists say it could also be applied to enhanced skin care treatments for wrinkles, wounds and conditions such as psoriasis.
The scientists at Northwestern say that their approach has taken advantage of drugs consisting of novel spherical arrangements of nucleic acids, in a report that is due to be published this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
These nano structured spheres have the unique ability to recruit and bind to natural proteins that in turn allow them to traverse the skin and enter cells.
Targeted and deeper skin penetration
The scientists claim that the technology they have developed actually allows the drug, or active ingredient, to penetrate all skin’s layers, selectively targeting cells. In the case of skin cancers, the scientists say the drug can then be delivered to ‘flip the switch of the troublesome gene off’.
“This allows us to treat a skin problem precisely where it is manifesting - on the skin,” said report co-senior author Amy S. Paller, M.D., the Walter J. Hamlin Professor, chair of dermatology and professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
“We can target our therapy to the drivers of disease, at a level so minute that it can distinguish mutant genes from normal genes. Risks are minimised, and side effects have not been seen to date in our human skin and mouse models.”
Building on a history of nanotech research
The co-author of the research paper, Chad Mirkin, who is the director of the Northwestern International Institute for Nanotechnology, first developed the nanostructure platform used in the Northwestern study of 1996, one of the precursors to commercialized medical diagnostic tools.
He points out that this research is the first to indicate that the nanostructures naturally enter the skin and they can deliver a significant number of therapeutic effects for the skin and skin-related diseases.
During the research the nanostructures, which were designed to target cancers, were combined with a commercial moisturizer that was applied to the skin of mice. According to the findings the nanostructures targeted the epidermal growth factor receptor gene, decreasing the production of the problem protein associated with the skin cancer.
No side affects or nanoparticle accumulations recorded
The researchers say that after a month of continued application, there was no evidence of side affects, inappropriate triggering of the immune system, or accumulations of the nanoparticles in vital organs.
“This study is a landmark achievement in the area of gene regulation - I believe our work has a chance to positively and irreversibly change the field,” Mirkin said.
“The skin is a very tough barrier to go through, which is why this effective gene knockdown has not been accomplished before. The power and elegance of this system are in its simplicity.”