A researcher at The University of Texas at Austin's College of Pharmacy has been awarded a $2 million grant to develop new techniques to fight lung diseases.
Dr. Hugh Smyth, assistant professor of pharmaceutics, has been awarded a $2,180,539 grant from the National Institute of Health's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute for his investigation, "Multifunctional nanoparticles: Nanoknives and nanopullies for enhance drug delivery to the lung." Work in his research lab will address obstacles for combating many lung diseases by focusing on treatments for cystic fibrosis.
"Cystic fibrosis is one of the most common fatal inherited diseases," explained Smyth, adding that "most individuals with CF die young – in their 20s and 30s from lung failure."
One of the major reasons for the poor life expectancy is the inability of treatment therapies to overcome barriers within the airways created by the disease.
"Twenty years ago, the gene that leads to CF was discovered. Soon after, researchers devised gene therapy treatment protocols that promised a cure within reach," he said. "However, secretions of a dense, sticky mucus, a symptom of the disease, create a barrier that is almost impossible to break through. Losing patients to CF is especially tragic since we know what causes it and what could be effective in treating it, but we can't break through the barriers."
Smyth's research works to break open or "knife" through the sticky secretions so that gene therapies and drugs to treat symptoms can get to the cells. They have also shown that they can pull drugs through the sticky secretions.
"It turns out that the sticky secretions are susceptible very small particles in a magnetic field," he explained.
Researchers in the lab, use magnetic fields to move extremely tiny particles called nanoparticles that are administered to the lungs. Magnetic fields, like those used in Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs are then used to basically turn the particles into nanoknives that slice through or break up the secretions. They also can pull drugs and gene therapies through the sticky secretions using magnets that are slightly stronger than refrigerator magnets. This processes, Smyth said, will open pathways through the secretions that will permit the drugs and gene therapy to reach their target. This type of nanoparticles has proved both safe and effective in MRI imaging and Smyth feels the process holds promise for treating CF patients.
His lab will focus on these treatment regimens at the cellular level and will eventually expand into animal models.
Although the current focus of the research is on CF, findings from his studies are believed to have direct relevance and applicability to many other lung diseases such as tuberculosis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and chronic lung infections.
Smyth joined the UT College of Pharmacy in Fall 2009. This new research grant puts him in collaboration with his former colleagues at the University of New Mexico including Dr. Marek Osinski and researchers at Loveless Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque.