Hitting a Nerve: Delivering Drugs into a Neuron

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In this image, captured by Gaurav Sahay, Avi Schroeder and Paulina Hill of the Langer and Anderson Labs at the Koch Institute, tiny lipid pouches (red) have been taken up by a nerve cell.  Similar pouches could be used to transport therapeutics into diseased cells.

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Gaurav Sahay, Avi Schroeder, Paulina Hill
Anderson and Langer Labs, Koch Institute
Confocal micrograph

Treatments for human disease must overcome an incredible array of biological obstacles before they can succeed.  Having a drug that causes the desired effect in diseased tissue is only a small piece of the puzzle; the drug must also somehow accumulate in the diseased tissue, evade defensive responses by the immune system, avoid damaging healthy tissues, and navigate a whole host of other possible pitfalls within the body.

In this image, biologist Gaurav Sahay, engineer Avi Schroeder, and neuroscientist Paulina Hill tackle yet another biological obstacle to drug delivery: the cell membrane, which protects the cell by keeping foreign materials out. Gaurav, Avi and Paulina build tiny vehicles – actually, tiny lipid pouches – to help drugs cross this barrier and act on intracellular components.  Here, they capture a moment of success:  pouches made up of a particular combination of lipids (red) have successfully crossed the membrane and reached the inside of a nerve cell.

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Gaurav Sahay, Avi Schroeder, Paulina Hill, Daniel Anderson and Robert Langer explain how and why this image was captured.