Nano-sized particles, big medical potential

With his recently published book, Monash University Malaysia’s Dr Mohd Ezharul Hoque Chowdhury hopes to shed light on the fascinating possibilities of using nano-sized particles in medical treatment.

Dr Mohd Ezharul Hoque Chowdhury

Could nanotherapeutics provide the silver bullet to cure cancer?

While research of nano-sized particles in medical treatment is still in its early days, Dr Mohd Ezharul Hoque Chowdhury, Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences at the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Monash University Malaysia, is currently exploring that possibility.

Ezharul used his patented pH-sensitive, biodegradable carbon apatite nanoparticles to deliver chemotherapy drugs to breast tumours in mice. The results are highly promising – there was significant tumour reduction as a result of an increase uptake of the drug by the cancerous cells, according  to his published research paper.

In his another recent research paper, Ezharul explores the therapeutic potential of small interfering ribonucleic acid (siRNA) and the beneficial roles of the nanoparticles as siRNA carriers to block the formation of harmful ROS1 protein, which is linked to stimulating cancer.

He believes that nanotherapeutics – the multi-disciplinary field harnessing nanotechnology in drug formulation to treat diseases – will reshape the world of medicine, as it overcomes the limitations faced by traditional medicine.

How small nano particles make a big difference

The problem with traditional medicine is that when small drugs enter the body, it is homogenously distributed through the blood – there is no targeted delivery to specific cells and there is greater loss of the drug.

For greater effectiveness, the drug would have to be administered in larger dosages, which results in more adverse side effects and potential damage to healthy tissue.

Nanoparticles refer to particles roughly between 1 and 100 nanometres in size, with a nanometer measuring a billionth of a metre (0.000000001m). Due to their submicroscopic size, they have unique characteristics, such as a larger surface area to volume ratio than particles of a larger size, rendering  them more reactive.

Different drugs can be attached to nanoparticles, as their size and surface can be modified easily to be used either for passive or active drug targeting.

Changing the chemistry of the bond linking the drug to the nanoparticle, one can prevent leakage of the drug during the transportation and control its release into the target site within the body.

Controlled distribution and slow clearance of the drug from the body also increases the effectiveness of the drug and produces fewer side effects.

A comprehensive take on nanotherapeutics

With his recently launched book, Nanotherapeutics: From Laboratory to Clinic, Ezharul aims to present a clear, comprehensive view of what nanotherapeutics is all about – from design and fabrication to final development.

“The thing about nanotherapeutics is that it is multi-disciplinary. It is difficult to find someone who is an expert in all the fields – pharmaceuticals, biology, chemical engineering, medicine. A former editor with the publisher, CRC Press, invited me to write a book that addressed this,  as the team of reviewers believed I had the expertise,” he said.

A graduate from the University of Dhaka with a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Ezharul was offered a scholarship to pursue his Doctor of Engineering Degree in Biomolecular Engineering at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Writing the book took more than a year, as it involved collating, reading through and summarising more than 1,000 review papers related to nanomedicine. The 336-page, 15-chapter reference book is suitable not only for academic staff, but for graduate and undergraduate students in the disciplines of  Medicine, Pharmacy, Biomedical Science/Technology and Chemical Engineering, he adds.

To accurately depict the inner workings of nanoparticles, the hardcover book includes 71 coloured images, illustrated by Ezharul himself, as he found existing graphics to be unclear and not sufficiently insightful.

Besides providing an extensive database of potential nanomedicine products under clinical trials and in the market, the book also details how nanocarriers (nano-particles that act as carriers) improve the local delivery, sustained release and half-life of small drugs and macromolecular drugs.

Now that he has launched the book, Ezharul hopes to eventually secure industry partners and sponsors for the further stages of his cancer research.

As research in nanomedicine has been mostly limited to pre-clinical animal trials, critics have voiced concerns that the approval of nanotherapeutic products in the market has outpaced sufficient research. However, don’t throw the baby out of the bath water, Ezharul says.

“If toxicity is found to be severe, it should not be approved. Some companies hide toxicity reports – this is simply not acceptable. If we can get good results in clinical trials (human trials) in five to six years, and if the efficacy is significant compared to commercially available drugs,  I believe nanotherapeutics is worth pursuing. Ultimately, we have to save lives,” says Ezharul.

Dr Mohd Ezharul Hoque Chowdhury is currently an Associate Professor at the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Monash University Malaysia. He teaches both medicine and pharmacy students, as well as supervises a number of PhD students. His interest in cancer research has seen him pioneering  the development of carbonate apatite as a smart tool for efficient and targeted intracellular delivery of genetic materials, gene-silencing elements, proteins and classical anti-cancer drugs, with his most recent being the world’s first PH sensitive inorganic nanoparticles.

For more information on the programs available at the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences at Monash Malaysia, please visit www.med.monash.edu.my.