Recently I read about a method to deliver drugs to the interior of a cell through the cell membrane to treat diseases such as cancer. This method, developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology, blasts temporary holes in the cell membrane which allow therapeutic drug molecules to enter the cell.
In this method carbon nanoparticles are injected into the fluid floating around cancer cells, and a laser is used to heat them. This heat creates gas bubbles and when the bubbles burst, they blow a hole in the membrane of the cancer cells. Drug molecules that are floating in the fluid around the cancer cells can then enter the cells.
Many other researchers are using more subtle ways to deliver drugs through cell membranes. For example, hemoglobin is a protein that picks up oxygen in your lungs and delivers it to cells throughout your body. Hemoglobin burrows through cell membranes to deliver the oxygen. Abraxis BioScience is enclosing therapeutic drug molecules in another protein, called albumin. These nanoparticles of albumin burrow through cancer cell membranes and deliver the drug to the interior of the cell.
Another way to get drugs through cell membranes is to enclose drug molecules in particles called lipisomes. Lipisomes are artificial membranes in a spherical shape, that can fuse with cell membranes. If a therapeutic drug is encased in a lipisome, as the lipisome membrane fuses with the cell membrane, the drug inside the lipisome is delivered into the cell. A company called TLC (Taiwan Lipisome Company) is among those using lipisomes for drug delivery.
It will be interesting to see which methods prove most effective and take the lead in drug delivery to cells in a few years. For more information on the use of nanotechnology in medicine go to UnderstandingNano's Nanotechnology in Medicine webpage at http://www.understandingnano.com/medicine.html