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Nano drugs dosed via skin could become easier to develop, thanks to Israeli research

Bar Ilan University method for assessing effectiveness of drugs through dermal delivery ‘could really push forward development of nanomedicine,’ researcher says

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative image: Nanoparticles, like those used in research to develop nano medicine (peterschreiber.media via iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image: Nanoparticles, like those used in research to develop nano medicine (peterschreiber.media via iStock by Getty Images)

Israeli scientists say they have overcome a major hurdle that today holds back the development of nano drugs that can be given through the skin.

The pharmaceutical industry knows how to administer substances through the skin, as in the case of nicotine patches and contraceptive patches. But it hasn’t become a popular route for dosing drugs.

A major challenge is that it’s hard for scientists to get an accurate picture of how effectively particles are reaching the correct destination in the body. This is because, with a maximum size of one-thousandth of a centimeter if they’re to penetrate the skin, they are too tiny to then detect through noninvasive means.

Given that a key part of developing a drug is tracking exactly where it reaches in the body and assessing its effectiveness, this presents drug developers with a significant problem.

Scientists currently check where nanoparticles reach using invasive means such as a biopsy. But this causes pain and is hard to conduct on a mass scale, such as for the types of large-scale trials normally necessary to develop drugs.

“The new research could really push forward the development of nanomedicine, by giving us a way to gauge the concentration of medicines in different layers of the skin,” Channa Shapira, one of the key scholars, told The Times of Israel.

Illustrative image: a man applies a nicotine patch. New Israeli research could help to make medicines dosed through the skin more common. (Henadzi Pechan via iStock by Getty Images)

Shapira overcame the problem of the particles being too small to track by using lasers and has published her peer-reviewed results in the journal ACS Nano.

While the particles are too small to be detected, they subtly change the appearance of the skin based on how deep into the skin they have penetrated. The changes aren’t visible to the naked eye, but Shapira developed a way to shine lasers on the skin and use special machinery to determine where the particles are located and their concentration.

The method involves briefly exposing patients to a blue laser beam. An optical system creates a photograph-like 3D image through which optical changes in treated tissue can be extracted and compared to adjacent, untreated tissue using a specially-created algorithm.

Prof. Dror Fixler, Bar-Ilan University (YouTube screen capture)

The method needs more testing before being put to practical use, but Bar Ilan’s Prof. Dror Fixler said he is optimistic about its potential.

Fixler, who heads Bar Ilan’s Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Material and oversaw the research, said he thinks it could result in nanomedicine becoming far more mainstream.

He commented: “This is a significant development in dermatology and in optical engineering. It could open the door to developing drugs applied through the skin alongside modern cosmetic preparations using advanced nanotechnology.”

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