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Australia Fellowship supports development of new drug delivery system

24 February 2009, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Professor Rob Parton, Deputy Director of the AMMRF’s University of Queensland node has been awarded a prestigious Australia Fellowship from the NHMRC. This will support work investigating the development and application of a new nanoscale drug delivery system. It has the potential to deliver drugs only into specific target cells, greatly increasing their effectiveness and minimising adverse reactions.

This exciting development stems from Professor Parton’s basic research on caveolae, small membrane-bound pouches that are important in many cellular functions. He has identified a specific protein that is essential for these structures to form. The protein can be inserted into E. coli bacteria triggering the formation of similar vesicles from these cells’ membranes. By incorporating specific drugs at the time of formation, nanoscale, membrane-bound ‘bubbles’ filled with the drug can be produced. The system is so effective that it completely takes over the bacterial cell, which fills to bursting point with the drug-filled ‘bubbles’. 

The other striking feature of this system is that a targeting signal can be engineered into the proteins that allow the ‘bubbles’ to form, directing the ‘bubbles’ only to specific cells within the body. "A serious problem with many treatments today, especially for cancer, is that they kill healthy cells as well as diseased cells," Professor Parton said. "Targeted drug delivery systems, in which the drugs are enclosed in a vehicle that is targeted towards specific sites in the body, can avoid this problem."

Facilities at the Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis, the University of Queensland node of the AMMRF, have been crucial to Professor Parton’s research. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and cryo tomography on the AMMRF flagship instrument have enabled him to understand the structure and formation mechanisms of the membrane vesicles. These techniques will continue to play a major role in the research he undertakes during his Australia Fellowship. They particularly lend themselves to studies of such extremely small structures.

"As well as a system of more targeted drug delivery, this research will also give us more information on the workings of mammalian cells, and particularly new insights into critical processes disrupted in disease," Professor Parton said.

The AMMRF is Australia’s peak research facility for the characterisation of materials by means of advanced microscopy and microanalysis, providing capability and services to all areas of the physical, environmental and biological sciences, to engineering, to medicine and to technology development.

Established under the Commonwealth Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), the AMMRF is a truly national research facility with nodes at the University of Sydney (which also serves as the national headquarters), the University of Queensland, the University of New South Wales, the University of Western Australia, Australian National University, Flinders University, the University of Adelaide, and the University of South Australia. The facility is funded by the Commonwealth Government through NCRIS and the State Governments of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

The facility unites microscopy and microanalysis centres at these universities into a national collaborative grid of laboratories, unified in terms of both equipment and research expertise. The AMMRF provides new, state-of-the-art instruments to researchers from Australia on a merit basis at nominal rates.

Contact: Dr Jenny Whiting, AMMRF Marketing & Business Development Manager, ph. 02 9114 0566.