Dr Julian Moger in the laboratory. Photo by Tim Pestridge.

Exeter research sheds light on brain disease

Cutting-edge optical imaging technology developed at the University of Exeter will help develop smart nanodrugs to treat brain diseases like schizophrenia, depression and dementia.

The University of Exeter, London School of Pharmacy, Kings College London and GlaxoSmithKline are working together to develop new drug-delivery techniques for brain diseases.

The research team, led by London School of Pharmacy, has won a £1.7M grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Nanoscience through engineering to application programme. The project, which is funded for three years, is one of only nine to have been successful in this highly competitive programme.

Dr Julian Moger from the University of Exeter's School of Physics has developed a new optical imaging technique to monitor the transport of particles less than one thousandth of a millimetre in size within biological tissues. Dr Moger is able to locate these nanoparticles within brain cells using pulses of light less than one millionth of a millionth of a second in duration. This new imaging technique enables him to tune into the molecular signals from these sub-wavelength particles and identify their precise location.

95% of potential new drugs never make it as pharmaceuticals due to poor solubility, unacceptable levels of toxicity, or because they simply do not reach the part of the body where they are needed. These problems can be overcome by encapsulating drugs in nanoparticles. New research shows that nanoparticles can even be tailored to actively target specific sites within the body and act as depositories for controlled drug release.

An area that can particularly benefit from targeted drug delivery is the brain. Brain diseases are particularly hard to treat because the delivery of drugs to the brain is hampered by the blood brain barrier (BBB). This barrier between the blood and the brain does not permit the passage of most drug molecules. Now there is potential for this to be overcome through the use of nanodrugs.

Dr Julian Moger of the University of Exeter’s School of Physics says: “450 million people worldwide are living with mental, neurological or behavioural illnesses, with 24 million suffering from dementias. Using state-of-the-art photonic imaging developed at Exeter, we will provide new information of the mechanisms underlying nanoparticle drug delivery which will allow pharmacologists to rationally design more efficient, safer, and less invasive drug delivery to the brain.

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to apply my research in an area that could benefit so many people and I am very privileged to be working with this superb interdisciplinary team of researchers.”

The technology developed at Exeter will be used in pharmaceutical research laboratories. If a second phase of funding is awarded, the research will be carried through to clinical trials. Over the next three years, the University is investing £80 million in five areas of interdisciplinary scientific research, one of which is Translational Medicine.

Date: 17 June 2009

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