Malaysian scientists are joining forces with Harvard University experts to help in seeking a safe, more effective way of tackling lung problems including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the progressive, irreversible obstruction of airways causing almost 1 in 10 deaths today and to revolutionize the treatment of lung diseases through the delivery of ‘nanomedicine.’
Treatment of COPD and lung cancer commonly involves chemotherapeutics and corticosteroids which are misted into a fine spray and inhaled, enabling direct delivery to the lungs and a quick and effective medicinal effect. However, because the particles produced by today’s inhalers are large, most of the medicine is deposited in the upper respiratory tract and does not reach down to lower parts of the airways and lungs.
The Harvard team is working on “smart” nanoparticles, which are tiny particles that deliver the appropriate levels of a medication to the deepest, tiniest sacs of the lung and ensures an even distribution, through the use of magnetic fields.
Malaysia’s role is to help ensure the safety and improve the effectiveness of nanomedicine and in assessing how nanomedicine particles behave in the body, what attaches to them to form a coating, where the drug accumulates and how it interacts with different cells.
Inhaled nanomedicine holds the promise of helping doctors prevent and treat such problems in future, reaching the target area more swiftly than if administered orally or even intravenously. This is particularly true for COPD and lung cancer, says Dr. Brain. “Experiments have demonstrated that a drug dose administered directly to the respiratory tract achieves much higher local drug concentrations at the target site.”
“Nanotechnology is making a significant impact on health care by delivering improvements in disease diagnosis and monitoring, as well as enabling new approaches to regenerative medicine and drug delivery,” says Prof. Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Lung regeneration is another key focal point as scientists have found that regardless of their stage in life, lung cells are able to regenerate themselves in order to repair missing or damaged tissue. The team behind the discovery hopes that they will one day be able to replicate this natural behavior in order to help repair tissue damage in patients with conditions such as COPD.
There are two main types of lung cells: type 1 cells, where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged during breathing and type 2, which secrete surfactants, a type of lubricant essential to the breathing process. Type 2 cells have been previously observed to regenerate into type 1 cells in the presence of cell damage, but a team of scientists from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Duke University have shown that the opposite also occurs.
“We saw new cells growing back into these new areas of the lung. It’s as if the lung knows it has to grow back and can call into action some type 1 cells to help in that process,” explained cardiologist Rajan Jain and the observation suggests that there is much more flexibility in the pulmonary system than previously thought.
Understanding how and why these mature cells are regenerating into different types of lung tissue may be the key to treating certain types of lung damage caused by conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Although patients may somewhat control the condition, there is currently no cure. The ability to regrow damaged lung tissue on demand, then, could completely change treatment options and possibly offer a cure for COPD patients.