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A new molecule has been developed by scientists at Kansas State University that could potentially deliver medicines inside the body.
The membrane-bounded vescicle is entirely formed of peptides, which are made up of amino acids.
A patent for the molecule is currently pending and the research was published in the journal PLOS ONE.
One of the chemical properties of peptides is that they can be created in a solution containing a compound that is encapsulated within a bubble inside the vescicle as it forms, similar to the way in which over-the-counter oral medicines can be contained within capsules.
Lead researcher John Tomich, Kansas State University professor of biochemistry, suggested that peptides could therefore be used to deliver "any kind of molecule" to cells.
He pointed out that there are some diseases in which "subpopulations of cells have gone awry" and said scientists would like to be able to specifically target these, instead of "attacking every cell including healthy ones".
As a result, expatriate medical insurance policies may soon be using these molecules to treat neurodegenerative diseases or cancer.
Peptides could be designed in such a way to target tumours, organs, tissues or cells, while they can also encapsulate toxins, inhibitors, chemical reagents and antibodies.
Professor Tomich said that international healthcare specialists do not yet know "all of the potential applications" that this delivery model could have.
"We envision that many products could be packaged and delivered using these peptides," he added.
It is thought that gene therapy could be improved as a result of the breakthrough, as this treatment model involves using healthy cells to replace diseased ones, with one of the biggest challenges realised in clinical trials being how the genes should be delivered.
Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, National Institutes of Health and Kansas State University Johnson Cancer Research Center provided partial funding for the research.
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