The University of Alabama

Manipulating Nanoparticles’ Surface Chemistry Holds Medical Promise, UA-Authored Nature Article Shows

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Swapping the chemical groups that originally coat iron oxide nanoparticles and making the particles soluble in biological solvents shows great promise for medical applications, such as drug delivery and contrast agents, according to a recent publication by University of Alabama engineers and scientists highlighted in Nature magazine.

According to an article published in the Aug. 4 issue of Nature, “the tiny particles of iron oxide can have their surface chemistry manipulated to make them soluble in water and so more useful in medical application.”

Dr. Yuping Bao, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, works with iron oxide nanoparticles, particularly for biomedical applications such as drug delivery and bioimaging. The water solubility and surface functionality of the nanoparticles are key parameters to their interactions with biological systems. Depending on the application, the surface coating of the nanoparticle significantly impacts its efficacy.

The properties of many conventional materials change when formed from nanoparticles because nanoparticles have a greater surface area per weight than larger particles. Therefore, a challenge with using nanoparticles in medical situations is keeping them stable in an aqueous environment like the human body.

Bao and a UA research team found that the process works best when the original coatings of the iron oxide nanoparticles were trioctylphosphine oxide and replaced with poly (acrylic acid), polyethylenimine or glutathione, which produced charged nanoparticles in an aqueous solution.

The University’s Office for Technology Transfer is working with Bao on filing for patent protection and researching commercial opportunities.

Bao is the article’s lead author. Other UA co-authors include Ying Qin, research associate for the Alabama Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs, and Yaolin Xu and Soubantika Palchoudhury, both graduate students in chemical and biological engineering.

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s fully accredited College of Engineering has more than 3,100 students and more than 100 faculty. In the last eight years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater scholars, Hollings scholars and Portz scholars.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.

  • CONTACT: Mary Wymer, engineering public relations, 205/348-6444 or mwymer@eng.ua.edu
  • SOURCE: Dr. Yuping Bao, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, 205/348-9869, ybao@eng.ua.edu