Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Erectile Dysfunction Treatment to Save Soldiers' Lives

Nanoparticles deliver biologically active drugs in ways that affect tissues as never before.

  • February 22, 2011

Losing half your blood volume is a tough thing to survive, even if you’re a hamster in a controlled laboratory study. It’s very bad if you’re a soldier on the battlefield, hours away from an emergency room or trauma center.

NO-containing nanoparticles

Massive blood loss can can lead to cardiac collapse and death. Coping with this complication normally requires an infusion of blood – i.e., a trauma center – but drugs that can prevent it are possible, at least in theory. One of them, nitric oxide (NO) can relax blood vessels and help avert hemorrhagic shock. The problem is that NO can cross cell membranes and dissipates rapidly.

The solution may be nanoparticles: they can contain the gas and release it gradually, as they dissovle in the body. Two years ago these particles were used in a study of a treatment for erectile dysfunction, where the ability of NO to increase blood flow showed promise:

Joel Friedman and his team created particles smaller than a virus that have a little payload of a drug—it could be anything researchers care to add—locked inside. The cage-like particles are made through a complicated process that combines a particular plastic and a type of sugar first discovered in crab shells. The drug to be delivered is then stuffed inside the nanoparticle cage like the meat in a ravioli.

In a release accompanying the publication of the most recent paper on these nanoparticles, lead author Joel Friedman said that “Animals given the nanoparticles exhibited better cardiac stability, stronger blood flow to tissues and other measures of hemorrhagic shock recovery compared to controls receiving saline solution minus the nanoparticles.”

Human trials are years away, if they ever occur, but if research by other scientists bears out the ability of nanoparticles to deliver the molecule of the year in a way that is truly unique, it could mean a whole new class of drugs.

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