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Heated magnet nanoparticles target cells, release drugs

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3-D model of liposome with embedded SPIONs (in purple)--Courtesy of Adolphe Merkle Institute

Researchers in Switzerland have created a novel drug delivery system using nanosized magnets to deliver toxic drugs to specific parts of a patient's body. The triggered delivery is a step toward creating "intelligent" drugs with highly targeted functions.

By combining a liposome nanocontainer with superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs), the National Research Program "Smart Materials" has created a way to provide detailed control over when and where drugs are released, according to the Swiss National Science Foundation.

The drug molecule--a chemotherapy drug, for example--is contained within the liposomal vesicle, which is implanted with the SPIONs. The drugs are shielded within the vesicle until when the SPIONs are activated and heated by a magnetic field, the vesicle's membrane becomes permeable, releasing the drug in the targeted spot.

The discovery marks a significant achievement in nanomedicine: "We can really talk of nanomedicine in this context because, by exploiting superparamagnetism, we are exploiting a quantum effect which only exists at the level of nanoparticles," said Heinrich Hofmann of the associated Powder Technology Laboratory in a statement.

- here's the release

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