AIT researchers pioneer ‘smart’ drug delivery systems for cancer therapy

Researchers from Athlone Institute of Technology’s Materials Research Institute (MRI) have developed smart drug delivery systems designed to pinpoint physiological diseases like cancer. Shane Halligan and Maurice Dalton, two research and development scientists under the supervision of Dr Luke Geever and Dr Ian Major respectively, have been investigating the use of polymer technology for intelligent drug release and other biomedical applications in conjunction with Stanford University and UCD’s Conway Institution.

Using acetic acid and a temperature-sensitive nanogel, Maurice Dalton’s novel system can be tailored to lower the critical solution temperature of physiological conditions. He explains: “Mutated oncogenes, the genes that can cause the growth of cancer, run a different temperature to normal, healthy cells. By tailoring the temperature of the drug delivery, we can pinpoint the cancerous cells without affecting the surrounding healthy tissue.”

His colleague, Shane Halligan, takes a different approach to biomedical research, instead investigating the benefits of subdermal implants for targeted drug delivery. By synthesizing polymers with thermos-sensitive capabilities, Shane hopes to minimize the need for invasive surgery. “Initially, our injectable material is at room temperature but when we inject it into the body at the site of treatment, it turns into a solid gel. This functionality reduces the need for surgery and acts as a targeted drug release mechanism,” he said.

The MRI researchers’ ground-breaking work has not gone unnoticed. Both men were awarded prizes for their contribution to science at the MRI Scientific Paper awards at Athlone Institute of Technology last week.

Mr Dalton, who began his academic journey with Athlone Institute of Technology back in 2009, was awarded the prize for Best First Scientific Publication by MRI researcher 2017 for his paper entitled ‘The Effect Acetic Acid Has on Poly (N-vinylcaprolactam) LCST for Biomedical Applications’. Though in the infancy of his academic career, Mr Dalton has already published three peer-reviewed papers on smart drug delivery systems utilised in biomedical sectors, two of which were collaborations with Stanford’s School of Medicine.

Meanwhile, Mr Halligan took home the prize for ‘Best Scientific Publication by MRI researcher 2017’ for his paper on ‘Synthesis, characterisation and phase transition behaviour of temperature-responsive physically crosslinked poly (N-vinylcaprolactam) based polymers for biomedical applications’. His pioneering research, which has an impact factor of 5, was recently published in Materials Science and Engineering: C, a journal concerned with the interface of the biomedical sciences and materials engineering.

Presenting the awards was Dr Declan Devine, Director of the Materials Research Institute at Athlone Institute of Technology. He commended the two on their contribution to the canon of scientific literature: “Writing scientific publications is a challenge but it is the currency that researchers are judged by. We in AIT want to promote and encourage all researchers, especially new ones to disseminate their research in this way. This has a positive effect of promoting the researchers own profile and that of the institute to the wider scientific community. The MRI scientific research publication awards acknowledge the efforts our researchers and aim to highlight our best contributions to the literature.”

Though the extent to which illnesses can be treated using these innovative drug delivery systems is, as of yet, unclear, there is no doubt that this groundbreaking technology will be of great benefit to biomedicine. Both researchers will continue in their mission to develop the next generation ‘smart’ polymers for controlled drug delivery applications.

Athlone Institute of Technology is a modern and dynamic HEI distinguished by outstanding learner experience, international focus and applied research and innovation. Awarded Sunday Times Institute of Technology of the Year, AIT is ranked 8th nationally of all HEIs in the league table comprising of Irish Universities and IoT’s. Athlone Institute of Technology boasts a wide array of courses in the Faculties of Engineering and Informatics, Business and Hospitality, and Science and Health. For the full list of courses on offer at Athlone Institute of Technology click here.

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