Nanotechnology in Therapeutic Delivery at UCSF


As part of Salesforce’s 2013 Dreamforce conference, Tejal Desai, PhD, spoke in the session, “Nanotechnology and Pills: It’s a Small World” about the way she and her team are changing therapeutics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). She was one of a number of speakers in the UCSF track, Unusual Thinkers, held on November 20 in San Francisco.

“By tailoring the delivery of drugs at the cellular level with controlled dosing, we can control things at the molecular scale,” Desai says. Using nanomaterials in a biological context, they can get down to the size of a cell or smaller.

“Nano” means one-billionth, or 10-9; therefore, one nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. A molecule is a nanometer long, while a piece of hair is 80,000–100,000 nanometers wide.

An engineer by training, Desai is a professor of bioengineering and therapeutic sciences at UCSF’s School of Pharmacy. In Desai’s Therapeutic Microtechnology and Nanotechnology Laboratory, she and her researchers have initiated an effort to enhance the delivery of therapeutics.

Researchers in Desai’s lab are applying micro- and nanoscale technologies to create tiny devices that can be implanted or ingested to deliver drugs to specifically targeted sites within the body. When they can control the size and shape of a delivery system, they can then think about getting drugs across an epithermal barrier. Part of the intent is to reduce the cost of the amount of therapeutic care needed while resulting in higher efficacy.

Macular Degeneration Treatment

One aspect of Desai’s lab’s research entails the development of a less invasive delivery system for treating age-related macular degeneration.

Using a process called nanotemplating, Desai’s team is able to create precise architectures comprised of rods of atoms. After adding a thin, flexible polymer on top, they pull the rods out, leaving holes, or nanopores, in what looks like a thin, transparent film. The nanopores, 400 nm in size—48,000 times smaller than a penny—allow the drug to be released over a long period of time.

For effective treatment, clinicians need to be able to deliver six to 12 months of medication to the eye in a precise dose. After implanting the film in the eye, the same amount of drug is released over the course of 200 days and is delivered to the back of the eye. It goes straight to the retina, delivers the medication, and then dissolves away.

By tailoring the delivery of drugs at the molecular level, it is also possible to apply nanotechnology to a host of other diseases—oral, cardio, and transdermal, among others. Desai continues to work on improving the systemic delivery of drugs as well as drug optimizations based on new formulations. Desai and her researchers continue in their pursuit of new therapies and delivery modalities, thanks to nanotechnology.

Follow Tejal Desai @UCSF_BioE

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