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New technology for separating nanoparticles from plasma invented

Researchers say the new technique will help scientists track nanoparticles and better understand how they work as they travel through the body.

By
Brooks Hays
An illustration shows the electric chip separating the nanoparticles from the blood and pulling them to its electrodes. Photo by Stuart Ibsen and Steven Ibsen/UC San Diego
An illustration shows the electric chip separating the nanoparticles from the blood and pulling them to its electrodes. Photo by Stuart Ibsen and Steven Ibsen/UC San Diego

SAN DIEGO, Nov. 24 (UPI) -- Nanoparticles hold promise as a medicine delivery vehicle. Researchers looking to treat a variety of health problems, from cancer to blood infections, have experimented with the technology.

But separating the drug delivery nanoparticles from the blood is exceedingly difficult. New research out of University of California, San Diego, however, may make the process much easier. Engineers there have developed a way to separate plasma and nanoparticles using an oscillating electric field.

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Researchers detailed the new process in a new paper published last month in the journal Small.

"This is the first example of isolating a wide range of nanoparticles out of plasma with a minimum amount of manipulation," study author Stuart Ibsen, a postdoctoral fellow in then nanoengineering department, said in a press release. "We've designed a very versatile technique that can be used to recover nanoparticles in a lot of different processes."

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Plasma, the viscous substance that binds blood cells, has a hard time letting go of nanoparticles once they are introduced to the bloodstream. Current techniques employ sugar solution, dilution and a centrifuge. But most such methods either don't work well or damage the nanoparticles.

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Researchers say the new technique will help scientists track nanoparticles and better understand how they work as they travel through the body. To improve the technology as a drug therapy delivery mechanism, researchers to study the ways blood proteins bind to the nanparticles and diminish their effectiveness. The new tracking and recovery process will help researchers do just that.

"We were interested in a fast and easy way to take these nanoparticles out of plasma so we could find out what's going on at their surfaces and redesign them to work more effectively in blood," said Michael Heller, a nanoengineering professor at UC San Diego.

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The technology is powered by a dime-sized electric chip. When the chip's electrodes pulse out an oscillating electric current, the surrounding plasma and nanoparticles begin to reorient themselves. But the nanoparticles' positive and negative charges reorient themselves at a different speed than the plasma, creating a momentary gap during which the particles are pulled toward the chip's electrodes.

When tested in the lab, the technology was compatible with a variety of types of nanoparticles employed in medical research labs.

"It's amazing that this method works without any modifications to the plasma samples or to the nanoparticles," said Ibsen.

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