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#EBSstories Scientists study how to penetrate mucus for drug delivery


Scientists are looking for ways to deliver drugs through mucus, in order to treat diseases affecting lungs.

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Cystic fibrosis is a disease where thick, sticky mucus builds up in the lungs, digestive system and other organs. It is the most common genetic disease in the white population that has no cure.

Paola Brocca, researcher at the University of Milan (Italy), is trying to find ways of delivering drugs to lungs that are affected by cystic fibrosis or other conditions where mucus' physical properties are altered and it appears sticky and denser than in normal conditions. The mucus layer is made of cross-linked mucin chains, water, and other gel-like constituents, which create a complex barrier. “This barrier makes it very difficult for inhaled drugs to heal the lungs, and especially in cystic fibrosis”, explains Brocca.

Brocca’s team, working in collaboration with pharmacist Francesca Ungaro from University of Naples, is studying the motion of nanoparticlces in the mucus to discover whether they can function as vectors to deliver drugs in patients with lung diseases. They came to ID10 to carry out experiments to study fast dynamics of nanoparticles inside mucus using high-energy X-ray Photon Correlation Spectroscopy Techniques.

She has been coming to the ESRF’s beamline for many years, but only now is the first time that she uses the new Extremely Brilliant Source: “Our data has improved a lot in terms of quality and detection speed and we can get a much clearer picture of what happens when we insert the nanoparticle in the mucus”, she concludes.

Top image: Mucosa of a lung broncus.