In what should surely be filed under the category, “Why didn’t anyone think of this earlier?” patented medical research by a chemical engineering professor at UL Lafayette may lead to a higher survival rate of cancer and other leading fatal illnesses.

Devesh Misra, Ph.D., headed up a team of students and professors from the engineering and chemistry departments in developing a new delivery system for medical drugs into the human system.

Using an external magnetic field and magnetic nanoparticles embedded within the fluid flowing through an IV tube, the team built a solution to the question of how to get medicine to the problem areas quicker and cheaper.

“It is a new approach to drug delivery. It is more effective and least detrimental in terms of destroying healthy cells,” says Misra, who received a bachelor of technology in metallurgical engineering at Banaras University in India in 1980 and his doctorate in materials science and metallurgy at Cambridge University in England in 1984. “It is a magnetic-induced drug delivery system.”

For years, patients had to absorb medicine into their system through oral consumption, but while the medicine traveled to its destination, it killed healthy cells along the way. Once the pill reached its destination, according to Misra, much of it was worn down, losing its potency. “It is like an eye drop medicine, 90 percent flows out and only 10 percent goes in,” Misra said.

The same could be said of the old, outdated IV method. The new improved version still uses the IV as the pathway of choice, but with a new twist.

The medicine would be interspersed with nanoparticles called magnetite. These particles would be uniformly sized at around 5 to 8 nanometers each, with the thought being that uniform particles have similar magnetic strength, so the bulk of the medicine would arrive at its destination at the same time, not intermittently like current IV drips.

The particles would be superparamagnetic, meaning they would lose their magnetism once the magnetic field is turned off. Anything larger than 5 to 8 nanometers would make the particle paramagnetic, meaning they would keep their magnetism once the external field is turned off. “These particles should be magnetic in character only when the magnetic field is applied,” Misra says.

Making superparamagnetic particles can be a challenge, and part of the patent outlines the process used to manufacture the uniform particles.

Modifications were made to the process called reverse micelle to create the nanoparticles. A titanium or polymer shell is used to create the outer shell of the magnetite, and chemical hydrolysis is used to spread an antimicrobial agent on the particle.

Reverse micelle is the key to the entire process, as it controls the size of the particles. The reaction takes place in a microreactor “where droplets of precipitating aqueous solution is sustained in a hydrocarbon bulk phase using surfactant.”

“[The] narrow distribution of nanoparticle size depends on the size of microreactor,” Misra says.

Using the aforementioned external magnetic field, a simple electromagnet would be suitable for the task, resulting in the nanoparticles being drawn to the magnetic field like a pack of dogs to fresh meat.

Once the field is turned off and the medicine has run its course, the magnetic particles would exit the body through the excretory system.

“I do think this research is at the cutting edge of drug delivery systems — if it can be perfected,” says August Gallo, Ph.D., head of the UL Lafayette chemistry department and one of the members of Misra’s team. “We are not the first report of such a system, but it has attracted much attention.

“For example, as soon as the work was published, I had a call from Geltex, a polymer company in Boston, that works on similar systems. I remain hopeful that such a system will be available in the next five to seven years or so.”

Much of the synthetic work was done in Montgomery Hall on UL Lafayette’s campus, specifically in the labs of Gallo and Radhey Srivastava, Ph.D., another member of the team.

Misra says he is not sure when the process will be available for widespread use but notes that both Johns Hopkins University and Dartmouth College have already contacted him. He says both are interested in the cancer-fighting potential of the research, while the University of Louisville also contacted him, interested in the use of magnetic nanoparticles.

Misra’s particles could also be used in other ways. One is to input the particles directly into cancerous tumors, then heat them and have them destroy the tumor from inside. Dr. Jack Hoopes, a veterinarian and professor from Dartmouth College’s Medical School, is interested in the particles for this purpose.

“It is unknown how many particles it will take to kill one cell,” Hoopes says. “That, of course, is based on the strength of the magnetic field and the time of AMF activation [heating],” he continues. “Many types of cancer cells readily take up iron oxide nanoparticles, with or without attached antitumor antibodies.”

Hoopes says he heard about the research from Misra himself.

“He sent us a few papers, and we found out about his iron oxide nanoparticles and we are really interested in  it,” he says. “I think it might be reasonable to get him to come up here with some of his particles soon.”

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