University trio awarded share of £1.7m for research to aid oral delivery of therapeutics

Published: 20-Feb-2024

The team will identify key components of fatty nanoparticles from milk that allow them to cross the gut barrier to engineer drug delivery nanoparticles

A team of academics from Aston University, the University of Nottingham and King’s College London has secured a £1.7m grant to engineer artificial nanoparticles that can be used for oral drug delivery.

Oral administration is the preferred way of taking medicines because it is convenient, painless, safe and self-administrable.

However, certain drugs currently cannot be administered orally, as they break down in the highly acidic environment of the stomach, or the molecules are so large that the efficient gut wall barrier prevents them from passing through into the bloodstream.

One such example is nucleic acid-based drugs, like the COVID-19 vaccine. Such therapies must instead be injected by a healthcare professional. 
Previous research efforts attempting to develop technologies for oral delivery of nucleic acids have not been successful.

Thanks to the funding from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Technology Missions Fund, the research team will be able to investigate a promising oral delivery technique inspired by tiny particles called extracellular vesicles (EVs), which are released by animal cells.

EVs are 500-1000 times smaller than human hair, surrounded by a membrane, which play a crucial role in cell-to-cell communication by transferring various biological molecule cargoes from one cell to another. 

EVs from milk have been shown to pass the gut wall by an unknown mechanism.

The team, which from Aston University includes Dr Alan Goddard, will focus its efforts on understanding how milk EVs survive the gut. They will use this knowledge to engineer artificial nanoparticles for oral drug delivery.

By combining novel models of the human gut with in-depth analysis of the molecular components of the milk-derived EVs, the team will identify exactly which components are required to allow nanoparticles to cross the gut barrier. 

They will then load specially engineered synthetic nanoparticles with nucleic acids and test the efficacy of these for oral drug delivery.

Dr Goddard, reader in biochemistry, said: “We are thrilled to receive an Engineering Biology Mission Award, with our colleagues at Nottingham and King’s. This funding will enable us to develop the next generation of nanoparticles for oral drug delivery. This award will be housed in our recently established Aston Institute for Membrane Excellence (AIME). 

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