Nanoparticles are small enough to slip into the human bloodstream and even through the walls of cells. That’s made them a major source of health-related concern, but treated properly, they could also improve health. Gold nanoparticles, for example, have the potential to target and kill cancer cells, and coating nanoparticles with drugs, proteins and other materials gives them extra powers, such as the ability to skirt the body’s immune system and more effectively infiltrate cells.
The University of North Carolina and MIT are currently commercializing techniques to produce large batches of uniform nanoparticles and quickly apply coatings. Now, they have developed a process that combines the two techniques to quickly manufacture large batches of coated nanoparticles, making them more attractive for wide-scale use.
To manufacture nanoparticles, UNC researchers mix polymers and any custom materials they want to include, such as drug molecules. The mixture is applied to a large roll of film covered in molds that shape the nanoparticles as they solidify. A second roll of film adheres to the particles and removes them. The resulting billions of nanoparticles are extremely uniform in shape and size, whether they look like a cylinder or flower, which helps ensure they will behave predictably and safely.
Once they are stuck to the second roll of film, it’s time for MIT’s coating technology. Right now, it’s a very slow process to coat nanoparticles. Each layer takes about an hour to apply because the nanoparticles need to be soaked and then spun in a centrifuge to remove any extra coating. MIT’s technique uses a spray instead, reducing the application time for each layer to a few seconds.
The result is uniformly coated particles that can be produced quickly at a large scale.
“The idea was to put these two industrial-scale processes together and create a sophisticated, beautifully coated nanoparticle, in the same way that bakeries glaze your favorite donut on the conveyor belt,” MIT chemical engineering professor Paula Hammond said in a release.
Researchers from the two universities tested particles covered in an acid that is attracted to a protein associated with breast cancer cells. In their lab, the cells accepted the custom nanoparticles more readily than uncoated ones. They now want to develop coated nanoparticles that contain cancer drugs to shrink tumors.
Coated nanoparticles are not limited to health applications. Electronics also call for particles that are manufactured at a very precise level and coated with helpful materials. Gold nanoparticles, for example, are used in chips as conductors. Coatings could improve their reliability and expand applications.