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New Technology to deliver inhaled genetic therapies effectively in lung disease

1 December 2011

Drug-delivery technology developed by Health Research Board-funded researchers

New genetic-based medicines to treat chronic lung disease are on the horizon, but getting such therapies to where they need to go in the body can pose a challenge.

Now researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Beaumont Hospital have developed an approach that could effectively disguise and deliver inhaled genetic medicines into specific target cells in the lungs.

Their study is one of over 40 projects highlighted in the Health Research Board?s annual Picture of Health 2011 publication. Launched on Thursday December 1st, the HRB Picture of Health communicates the findings of recently funded research to a general audience.

?Ireland has one of the highest rates of respiratory diseases, like cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the world,? explains drug-delivery researcher Dr Sally-Ann Cryan, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Pharmacy, RCSI. ?So there?s a huge clinical need here, and also worldwide.?

Current drug approaches for progressive lung diseases tend to manage symptoms, but future genetic therapies could potentially address the underlying disease mechanisms too, according to Dr Cryan.

However, in order to work they need to get to the right cells in the lung.

?One of the big issues in translating the wonderful genetic information that?s coming out of initiatives like the human genome project is actually being able to deliver the genetic material to the living cells,? she says.

So Dr Cryan and clinical partner Prof. Gerry McElvaney at Beaumont Hospital have developed a technology that uses biomaterials to ?disguise? the inhaled genetic material so that it gets taken up by immune system cells called macrophages. Once inside the macrophages, the genetic therapy can help turn down the process of inflammation.

The researchers have demonstrated that the delivery system works on cells in the lab, and they have been collaborating with Irish medical devices company Aerogen to optimise the technology. Preclinical trials are now underway to further test out the inhaled delivery systems.

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