Scientists Design Nanoparticles to Help Immune Cells Accurately Target Pathogens without Causing Harm to Healthy Cells

According to reports, there were about 190000 cases and 75000 mortality from acute lung injury and acute respiratory distress syndrome ALI/ARDS. With the advent of COVID-19, these figures skyrocketed into millions. An acute lung injury is a severe form of respiratory failure, it is a common pathway of many respiratory disease entities especially COVID. It is a subsidiary of acute respiratory distress syndrome is also commonplace in people with trauma.

X-ray of lungs showing severe damage.

X-ray of lungs showing severe damage.

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Essentially in ARDS, neutrophils migrate to the lung’s air sacs. The neutrophils also release different active substances to subserve inflammation however these compounds cause more harm than good to the lung. it gets scarier because no drug can control the progress of inflammation in the lung, the best option is to give supporting therapy as we wait for the lung to heal itself albeit slowly. Additionally, inflammation causes plenty of fluid to leak into the lungs, this makes it harder for oxygen to get into the lung sacs. This fluid, in turn, causes some characteristic symptoms like short and fast breath, and at extremes, the body can undergo blue discoloration. As a rule of thumb, inflammation doesn’t spare even healthy cells as the immune system attacks the offending organisms. But recently, research from Perelman School of Medicine; University of Pennsylvania has shown promises of uncovering a drug that can help the immune cells to be more precise: narrow down the killing to diseased cells and offending pathogens, only.

Directing immune cells action using nanoparticles

Neutrophils are the most abundant cells of the white blood cells, they are the main footsoldiers in inflammation. The neutrophils have a somewhat inbuilt mechanism for identifying and eliminating offending pathogens from the body: this mechanism helps it know the healthy cells from the diseased cells by looking out for surface particles on the cells that show particle clumping.

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A study published in Nature nanotechnology set out to understand this mechanism that enables neutrophils to differentiate microbe bound for destruction from common blood substances like cholesterol. To achieve that objective they conducted a study on mice with ALI and examined 23 different protein-derived nanoparticles. It revealed a pattern or rules that could help predict that uptake of a particle was imminent. To put it differently, the neutrophils don’t take up random particles in the blood but cells that exhibited protein clumping, termed nanoparticles with agglutinated protein (NAPS) by the scientists.

Jacob Myerson Ph.D., the lead author, and postdoctoral research fellow explained they wanted to use the preexisting ability of neutrophils to detect and eliminate pathogens as a ‘Trojan Horse’: An enemy behind battle lines. The so-called Trojan Horse nanoparticle will guide the ‘hyperactive’ neutrophils to their precise target and consequently alleviate the severity of ALI and ARDS.

One of the senior authors Brenner Jacob said, “With this knowledge, we can continue to utilize this unique combination of material science and engineering, to create disease-specific therapies that target more advanced and complicated pathologies.”

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Clinical significance

The world cannot thank this research and its discovery enough. Now we can slow down the out-of-control inflammation that characterizes COVID. Also with nanoparticles, we can finally concentrate and deliver drugs precisely to the doorsteps of microbes. This novel tech can be utilized in immunology and gene therapy, who knows what we could uncover.


Though the development of this nanoparticle is in its infancy, the prospects are quite exciting. They will in time be the gold standard therapy in ALI/ARDS. Not only that, this step represents general progress in understanding the way the immune system operates.


Supramolecular arrangement of protein in nanoparticle structures predicts nanoparticle tropism for neutrophils in acute lung inflammation



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