Research into inhaler drugs give hope for needle-phobic
Using an inhaler to take medicine instead of getting a needle could become the norm in the future if Australian research into dry powder drugs is successful.
QUT pharmaceutical scientist Nazrul Islam is experimenting with using a powder made of nanoparticles that could be inhaled in the same way asthma medication is delivered today.
Dr Islam said the obvious application would be for the treatment of lung diseases, especially lung cancer, as a replacement for high-dose chemotherapy treatments.
“If we can deliver the drug directly into the lungs where cancer cells are available, it should be picked up by the cancer cells only, and not other cells,” he said.
Lung cancer is one of the world’s deadliest cancers as it is often not diagnosed until it is relatively advanced, and treatments usually focus on either surgery or general high-dose chemotherapy.
Eventually, Dr Islam hopes, the method can be used to deliver all sorts of drugs in a completely non-invasive way.
His current focus is getting the delivery mechanism right, with efforts focused on chitosan, a biodegradable polymer made from crustacean shells.
“There’s a lot of things we still need to test, especially whether these particles are compatible with the lung cells, this is still not clear,” Dr Islam said.
“More research is needed to understand whether it would create any other problems and whether it would be able to degrade safely in the lungs.”
Other research has looked at delivery of drugs via the lungs, but Dr Islam is the first to focus on chitosan, which he believes in a good candidate because it naturally sticks to the lining of the lungs, which would aid in the delivery of the drugs.
“If we can get the answer to the biodegrading question, then we can get the product,” he said.
A range of drugs are currently delivered via an inhaler, but almost all of them relate directly to asthma and other lung-specific and non-cancerous conditions.
After the current round of preliminary experiments, Dr Islam said he hoped to extend the testing to animal trials in the near future.
However, needle-phobes will need to wait a little longer before they can definitely take a puff instead of a jab.
“It will take three years for the current round of experiments, and then for the clinical testing I think the next 10 years we will see that,” he said.
“It is a long time … but I believe that (eventually) we will see this dry powder inhalation system used to manage a number of diseases.”
Chitosan is already used in the pharmaceutical industry as a filler in many tablets, as well as a topical treatment itself for some types of inflammation.
Dr Islam has previously published his research in the journal Current Cancer Drug Targets.