Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed new guidelines for fabricating nanoscale gel materials, or nanogels, that can deliver numerous therapeutic treatments to treat cancer in a precise manner, the university announced.

In addition to enabling the delivery of drugs in response to tumors, the nanogels can target malignant cells, degrade into nontoxic components and execute multiple clinical functions, the article states.

The most important characteristic of the engineering researchers' nanogels is their ability to be chemically modified or “decorated” with many bioactive molecules, the article continues. These modifications give the decorated nanogels more diverse physical and chemical properties than any other existing technique, despite their identical origin. Such systems, which have the potential of being tailored to specific diseases or even individual patients, could be a useful tool for oncologists in the future.

A study published in Science Advances details the work. 

The research team is led by drug delivery pioneer Nicholas Peppas, a professor in the departments of biomedical engineering and chemical engineering and a BMES fellow. 

The UT College of Pharmacy and the Dell Medical School, conducted the study over four years at UT's Institute for Biomaterials, Drug Delivery & Regenerative Medicine, which Peppas directs. 

“One way to think of our nanogel is like a blank canvas,” said John Clegg, who was a Ph.D. candidate in the Cockrell School when he worked on the study and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University. Clegg is also a BMES member. “Untouched, a blank canvas is nothing more than some wood and fabric,” he said in the article. “Likewise, the nanogel is a simple structure (made of polymer-joining agents and water).  When it is modified, or decorated, with different bioactive groups, it retains the activity of each added group. So, the system can be quite simple or quite sophisticated.”

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