Nanotechnology is defined as the intentional design, characterization, production, and applications of materials, structures, devices, and systems by controlling their size and shape in the nanoscale range (1-100 nm). This new field of science and the associated applications has undergone explosive growth in the last 10-15 years, during which nanobiotechnology has become one of the largest promises.
To actualize this promise we selected two indications as a test bed to exemplify the power of nanomaterials for combating diseases. On the one hand it was decided to concentrate on indications in ophthalmology. The eye is a well separated organ and due to its less active immune system it is a promising site to test new biomacromolecule-based carrier systems. Moreover, the road towards clinical testing for ophthalmic indications is less demanding than for disorders of other organs and as a result allows faster entry into clinical trials. Eye-related diseases are usually cured by local treatment with eye drops or intraocular injections. Diseases regarding the anterior sections of the eye like infections of the cornea or the conjunctiva can nowadays only be treated with the very frequent application of highly concentrated antibiotic eye drops. The reason is that only 1% of the drug remains at the eye while 99% of the pharmaceutically active ingredient is washed away by tear flow and eyelid movement. The high drug concentrations can lead to local side effects up to anaphylactic shocks in extreme cases when the drug gets in contact with nasal mucosa and oral cavity. It is planned to fabricate nanocarrier systems that adhere to the surface of the eye and due to their longevity and controlled drug release much lower drug concentrations can be used in in these applications.
Most intraocular tissues are not reached by surface applied therapies and therefore require intraocular injections. These represent surgical interventions with the known risks associated to them. Within this program we will develop novel nano-depot systems that release drugs against diseases of the posterior of the eye over long periods of time. Such controlled delivery systems lower the treatment frequency and hence minimize the amount of injections and lowering the overall needed dosage.
The second indication we are planning to tackle is cancer. Several efforts within this program are directed towards developing novel carriers for the delivery of anticancer drugs. The nanomaterials are designed to target tumors in vivo and when introduced into the blood stream it leads to accumulation of the drug in the tumour tissue. In the future cancer patients might strongly benefit from the advanced therapeutic materials developed in this program because appropriate ways of surface functionalization of the carrier increases their half-life in the blood circulation, prevent opsonising proteins from adhering and reduce rapid metabolism and clearance. Moreover, adverse side effects are minimized by preventing nonspecific uptake of toxic therapeutic agents into healthy tissue.
Due to the complexity of cancer treatment and the many forms of this disease we plan to assess the potential of several carrier systems against various tumours but entering clinical trials is a long term goal and out of the scope of this program. In contrast, for the application of nanocarriers in the context of ophthalmic indications clinical trials are in reach within the time frame of this undertaken.