University of California-San Diego graduate student Dissaya Pornpattananangkul said she, along with Professor Liangfang Zhang, developed a "smart delivery system" that uses nanotechnology to deliver lauric acid -- a natural product found in both coconut oil and human breast milk -- directly to the bacterium propionibacterium, which causes common acne.
"It's a good feeling to know that I have a chance to develop a drug that could help people with acne," Pornpattananangkul said.
The new delivery system includes gold nanoparticles attached to surfaces of lauric-acid-filled "nano-bombs." The scientists said the gold nanoparticles keep the nano-bombs -- artificially made microscopic sacs into which the lauric acid can be packaged -- from fusing together. The nanoparticles also help the liposomes locate acne-causing bacteria based on the skin's microenvironment, including pH.
Once the liposomes reach the bacterial membranes, the acidic microenvironment causes the gold nanoparticles to drop off, allowing the lauric acid to kill the bacteria.
The research appeared in the March edition of the journal Nano.
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