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"Mini-suitcases" release drugs or seeds on demand

How a drug is delivered to the targeted area can make these weapons more effective against disease. Researchers at Western University are developing polymer coatings for medicine, like "mini-suitcases" that can release drugs exactly when and where they're needed. These packages could also be useful in agriculture, to protect seeds and deliver fertilizer more efficiently.

Designed to act like a stealth bomber against disease, "prodrugs" are harmless to the body, and will remain inactive until they're triggered by something like heat, light or contact with a specific protein or molecule. Past research has used prodrugs to help nanobubbles and stem cells to directly target tumors, without harming healthy tissue.

The Western University research is using the same principle, keeping drugs locked up tight inside special polymers until they're needed, which doctors can release on demand by applying heat, light or another trigger. That way, less of a drug will be needed in each dose, and the damage to healthy cells caused by treatments like chemotherapy can be reduced or removed.

"In the case of anti-cancer drugs, rather than have the cancer drugs spread indiscriminately throughout the body, we can release them when and where they are needed," says Elizabeth Gillies, lead researcher on the project.

These "mini-suitcases," as the team calls them, could also find use in agriculture. Encasing seeds in a protective polymer layer can guard them against killer frost, allowing them to germinate only after the danger has passed. Fertilizers, which can pollute the environment if they're washed away by the weather, could also be wrapped up and released on demand, when it best suits the crops.

The team is still developing the polymers, and to aid the research, this week Gillies is receiving a Steacie Fellowship, a Canadian national science prize.



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