Researchers from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst have developed polymer-stabilized droplet carriers that can identify and engulf nanoparticles to bring them into a cell. The team was inspired by proteins that can recognize microbes or debris and then encapsulate the material to get rid of it.
The team believes that this demonstration of surface-to-surface nanoparticle transport, which was published in Science Advances, is the 1st of its kind.
“These carriers act as nanoparticle taxicabs. They find particles on one surface, recognize their composition, pick them up and drop them off later on another surface,” lead researcher Todd Emrick explained in prepared remarks. “The work is inspired by the very sophisticated biological/biochemical machinery operating in vivo, found for example in the case of osteoclasts and osteoblasts that work to balance bone density through deposition and depletion of material. We replicated this with much simpler components: oil, water and polyolefins.”
Their experimental system used hydroxyapatite nanoparticles that represent the principal elemental composition of bone. The researchers evaluated the droplets pick-up efficiency using a variety of substrates. They discovered that the droplets couldn’t pick up the nanoparticles on certain surfaces, so they concluded that one could control the rate of “pick up” by altering the substrate composition.
The authors wrote that “designing materials that mimic the complex function of biology holds promise for translating the efficiency and specificity of cellular processes into simple, smart synthetic systems.” The system could be used to promote cell adhesion, a process that is necessary for drug delivery.