What if we could use a novel approach for delivering currently injectable drugs to the body without syringes? What if we could destroy malignant cancer cells in difficult areas of the body that cannot yet be targeted? Zakareya Hussein and Atif Syed, Students at York University are doing research to try to combine these into "the Nanject" and are seeking funding through the crowdfunding site Microryza.
"To understand this project, we need to understand some pitfalls of the current way of delivering drugs. At the moment, injections are used everywhere and they are mainly considered safe for a lot of people. The reason we use injections is because they are the quickest and most effective way to deliver drugs since they are not destroyed by the gastric acids and get directly into the blood stream. Apart from everyday medicines, this is true for many biotechnology based medicines as well. But there are significant risks associated with injections such as infections which can occur when the syringe accidentally pushes bacteria from the surface of the skin into the wound during the injection process. People who need to have regular injections such as diabetics become increasingly susceptible to this. Another risk is posed when syringes are reused in the absence of sterilization which exposes individuals to bacterial infections as well as blood-born pathogens or viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C. According to the World Health Organization numerous assessments have shown that up to 40% of injections worldwide are given with syringes and needles that are reused without sterilization. Adults and children also get pricked by syringes that have been disposed of unsafely.
"In addition to this, many people in society suffer from ineffective treatments. As we get older we commonly develop multiple medical problems that are treated using pharmaceutical drugs. These often cause multiple side-effects and that can be very crippling and cause depression for people with an already weakened body. Side effects can include brain fog, reduced mental capacity and reduced motor co-ordination among others. Most of this is due to administering much more than the necessary amount of potentially poisonous medications into the blood stream as they are being distributed everywhere in the body through the circulatory system. There is a huge need for something that gives no more of a drug than is required by the area of the body we want to treat. An estimated 12.7 million new cancer related cases were reported in 2008 and about 40% of them were lung, breast, prostate and stomach related cancer. In Asia alone, about 4 million people die due to cancer. Even with current methods, treatment of cancer is not guaranteed and in some cases patients are left with many side-effects. For example, in chemotherapy while destroying cancer cells many healthy cells are also destroyed. In addition to nausea and vomiting, patients undergoing chemotherapy may suffer from more serious side-effects such as infertility, brain and neurological effects, hair loss, anaemia and even damage to heart, liver, kidney and ears. In some cases patients will be more prone to viruses and bacteria since the immune system gets weak due to the depression of immune system during the process of chemotherapy. In other cases, patients undergoing chemotherapy may eventually die due to many healthy cells being destroyed during the process, before cancer is actually eliminated."
"In early 2011, I wanted to create a needless way of injecting medicines and also to be able to send little chemically actuated bots or nanobots which can detect and treat cancer cells. Since our skin already has a tiny opening through the hair follicles, I wanted to send these bots through and make use of capillaries which allow selected materials into the bloodstream. All this was done during my undergraduate degree. I have been working and presenting my concept and called it the NanoPatch.
"After 2 years of work and a thesis written on the synthesis of magnetic nanoparticles for bio-medical application, nanobots and Targeted Drug Delivery, it was about time to apply the work into making the product a reality. Around the end of April, I realized that an Australian company trade marked the name NanoPatch after Dr. Mark Kendall demonstrated its use in delivering vaccines through needleless injections. This meant that we can no longer use the name NanoPatch even though this is how I called the product for the past 2 years. Anyway, this is how the name Nanject was chosen. Although he (Dr. Mark Kendall)  proposes to eliminate the need of needles and syringes in an interesting way, what we want to do is completely different in terms of how we are making the Nanject (especially how the nanoprojections will be made) to how we will tag/detect and treat cancer cells. On top of all this, we are making this totally open so that we can get this out to the public as soon as we can. We are thinking of being the first to make a real contributions towards what we call 'open nanotechnology'.
"In this research we want to create a patch that looks similar to a nicotine or hormonal patch that you can apply to your skin. We are calling it the Nanject. The patch will be made out of silicon and possibly another polymer. Small nano-projections which are basically microscopic needle-like tips will be created on one side of the patch, the side that touches the skin. These are invisible to the human eye. When the patch is applied these nanoprojections will enter the hair follicle on the skin. Hair follicles themselves provide access to the subcutaneous layer which is where many vaccines are normally injected. The subcutaneous layer is essentially a fatty region underneath the skin. The difference is that vaccines damage tiny blood vessels called capillaries causing internal bleeding whereas we won't be using this technique. From the subcutaneous layer medicines are absorbed into capillaries that are intact. Capillaries are very selective about what they actually let into the blood stream in order to defend your body from invaders, which means patients will be shielded from many of the risks associated with traditional injections, such as the afore mentioned bacterial infections and other complications. This is the case even if the Nanject is accidentally left unsterilized! The remaining nanoprojections which don't hit the hair follicle on target are so small that they cannot even pierce the skin, making them completely harmless. This also means that when improperly disposed of the patch won't cause any accidental harm. This will also allow people without any special training to self-administer injections without any fear of pain and with very low risk of infection. We are making use of the tiny naturally occuring openings in our skin to deliver the drugs. The nanoparticles will be coated with proteins or peptides. The reason we are coating them with proteins [or] peptides is in order to make these nanoparticles bio-compatible. These nanoparticles will then be coated with different types of antigens or antibodies. What these antigens or antibodies do is to detect and tag cancer cells once they are inside the blood stream.
"The reason we decided to go through the crowd funding route because in that way we can connect to a wide range of people and moreover since we are doing this project as a non-profit venture, a little help from many people who see the potential behind the whole project can make a huge difference in order for us to get the minimum funds to create the initial version of Nanject."
Written by Atif Syed
Student Electronics and Nanotechnology Engineering
Department of Electronics, University of York