A new medicine hailed as a magic bullet could revolutionise the treatment of intensive care patients with lung disorders, scientists claimed today.
The new drug – developed by researchers at Queen's University, Belfast – could become the first effective treatment for acute lung injury (ALI) which claims the lives of thousands of people every year.
If successful the nanoparticle, which measures around one billionth of a metre, could also be used to treat other common lung disorders such as COPD and Cystic Fibrosis.
"Nanoparticles are perhaps one of the most exciting new approaches to drug development.
"Most research in the area focuses on how the delivery of drugs to the disease site can be improved in these minute carriers. Our own research in this area focuses on how nanoparticles interact with cells and how this can be exploited," said Professor Chris Scott from Queen's school of pharmacy, who is leading the research.
Acute lung injury (ALI) is a condition which affects about 20pc of all patients in intensive care.
Patients can become critically ill and develop problems with breathing when their lungs become inflamed and fill with fluid. They frequently require ventilators to aid breathing.
At present there are no effective treatments for acute lung injury because of the difficulty in reaching the inflammation.
The new nanoparticle from Queen's has a surface which allows it to recognise and bind to immune cells called macrophages in the lungs.
- key to the uncontrolled inflammation that occurs in ALI. This binding induces a rapid reduction in the inflammation, and has the potential to prevent the damaging effects that will otherwise occur in the lungs of ALI patients.
Prof Scott said the new medicine would help save lives, money and would improve the quality of life of ALI survivors.
"There are patients who survive ALI but could have damaged lung architecture but, if you stop the condition from the onset the quality of life for survivors could be better.
"It is really exciting," he added.
The project is developing the new nanomedicine towards clinical evaluation within the next three years, and is currently sponsored by a £505,000 grant for two years from the Medical Research Council Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme.
"This funding allows us to evaluate a completely novel therapeutic approach to the treatment of ALI and if successful, this nanomedicine could also have application in other common lung disorders such as COPD and Cystic Fibrosis," said Professor Danny McAuley from the centre for infection and immunity, a partner in developing the new nanomedicine.