Technology developed at Iowa State will lead to chemotherapy treatments that are less toxic with fewer side effects and vaccines that are longer lasting and don’t require refrigeration.

A team of Iowa State scientists led by Balaji Narasimhan, professor of chemical and biological engineering, has developed nanoparticles made from an FDA-approved polymer that prevent medications from being destroyed and expelled by the body’s immune system. Nanoparticles, so tiny that 300 of them would fit within the period of this sentence, break down slowly in the body and release the medication inside them over a longer period of time. As a result, smaller amounts of medicine are required for every therapeutic dose. “There are quite a few drugs that are toxic. You can reduce the payload and deliver them in a safe way to humans,” Narasimhan said.

Most of the new nanoparticle-protected medicines will be inhaled or transmitted through the skin via patches – eliminating the need for many kinds of painful shots, including booster vaccines against childhood diseases like measles. They also offer a faster and less costly way to manufacture vaccines instead of the time-consuming practice of harvesting egg yolks as a carrier for vaccines – a replacement that could eliminate allergic reactions some patients experience with traditional vaccines. And because nanoparticle-encapsulated medications won’t require refrigeration, hundreds of thousands of doses that are destroyed by heat can be available to treat more people.