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Potential side effects of many of today’s therapeutic drugs can be downright frightening — just listen carefully to a drug commercial on TV. These effects often occur when a drug is active throughout the body, not just where and when it is needed. But scientists are reporting progress on a new tailored approach to deliver medicine in a much more targeted way. The study on these new electronically controlled drugs appears in the journal ACS Nano.
Xinyan Tracy Cui and colleagues note that in the lab, “smart” medical implants can now release drugs on demand when exposed to various cues, including ultraviolet light and electrical current. These advances are largely thanks to developments in nanomaterials that can be designed to carry drugs and then release them at specific times and dosages. Researchers have also experimented with loading anti-cancer drugs on thin, tiny sheets of graphene oxide (GO), which have a lot of traits that are useful in drug delivery. But current techniques still require tweaking before they’ll be ready for prime time. Cui’s team wanted to work out some of the final kinks.
They incorporated GO nanosheets into a polymer thin film that can conduct electricity, loaded it with an anti-inflammatory drug and coated an electrode with it. When they zapped the material with an electric current, they showed that it released the drug consistently in response. They could do this several hundred times. Also, by experimenting with the sizes and thicknesses of the GO sheets, the scientists could change how much drug the nanosheets could carry. Cui said this approach could be useful in treating epilepsy, for example. In that case, medication already lying in wait inside the body could be released at the onset of a seizure.