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MIT Technology Review

New Ways to Sniff Drugs

Researchers in India say sniffing a special gold-particle solution could be a new way for diabetics to keep blood sugar under control.

Physicist Murali Sastry and his colleagues at the National Chemical Laboratory in Pune, India, loaded insulin on the surface of gold nano-particles about five nanometers in diameter by capping the particles with aspartic acid, an amino acid. The acid produces a charge that allows the insulin to adhere through electrostatic interactions. In results published this year, the technique reduced blood sugar levels in diabetic rats by up to 55 percent in about two hours, a drop comparable to the effect of standard insulin injections.

The particles are rapidly absorbed through the mucous membranes in the nasal tract; the Indian researchers say preliminary observations indicate the gold is expelled in urine.

Since insulin-dependent diabetes is a chronic condition, clinical trials would have to wait until the group establishes that there is no bioaccumulation of gold. But if all goes well, the group says, the method could emerge as a new platform for delivering drugs that otherwise must be injected because they break down in the stomach.

“We’re looking at nanogold as a platform technology to deliver a range of drugs,” says Varsha Pokharkar at the Poona College of Pharmacy.