Researchers from the University of Geneva and the University of Fribourg have developed a screening method that rapidly assesses and selects nanoparticles for their biocompatibility. The team’s work was published in the journal Nanoscale.
The researchers touted that they can determine if a nanoparticle will be compatible with the human body in less than a week – a process that traditionally takes months of research.
“Researchers can spend years developing a nanoparticle, without knowing what impact it will have on a living organism,” principal investigator Carole Bourquin said in prepared remarks. “So there was a real need to design an effective screening method that could be implemented at the beginning of the development process. Indeed, if the nanoparticles aren’t compatible, several years of research were simply thrown away.”
Macrophages, reacting to any foreign element that enters the body, can trigger an immune response. The way macrophages respond to a nanoparticle can give a researcher insight to whether or not the nanoparticle is biocompatible, the authors argued.
A nanoparticle needs to meet certain requirements before it can be medically useful – it cannot be toxic, it cannot be entirely ingested by macrophages and it should limit activation of the immune system. The team of researchers found a way to evaluate those 3 characteristics simultaneously, using flow cytometry to reach a diagnosis.
“The macrophages are brought into contact with the nanoparticles for 24 hours, and are then passed in front of the laser beams. The fluorescence emitted by the macrophages makes it possible to count them and characterise their activation levels. Since the particles themselves are fluorescent, we can also measure the amount ingested by the macrophages. Our process means we can test the 3 elements simultaneously, and we only need a very small amount of particles,” first author Inès Mottas said. “We can obtain a comprehensive diagnosis of the nanoparticle submitted to us in 2 or 3 days.”
The team hypothesized that this screening method could limit the use of animal testing and cut costs for researchers. They also argue that it could be a useful tool for personalizing treatment – researchers could test nanoparticles on tumor cells isolated from a patient and identify the most useful therapy.