Revolutionary molecular device unveiled for targeted drug delivery and self-healing materials

"We're on the brink of some truly remarkable advancements in healthcare"


Researchers at The University of Manchester have unveiled a groundbreaking molecular device that can precisely control the release of multiple small molecules using natural forces. This advancement in molecular technology opens the door to a myriad of possibilities in the fields of healthcare and material engineering, offering hope for more effective drug delivery systems and the development of self-healing materials that could transform the way we approach medical treatment and material durability.

Published in the prestigious journal Nature, the discovery introduces a force-controlled release system that could significantly advance medical treatment and smart materials. This innovative technique utilizes a unique interlocked molecule called rotaxane, which, when subjected to mechanical force such as that observed at an injured or damaged site, triggers the release of functional molecules, such as medicines or healing agents, to precisely target the area in need, such as the site of a tumor. Additionally, this breakthrough holds promise for self-healing materials that can repair themselves in situ when damaged, thereby extending the lifespan of these materials, such as fixing a scratch on a phone screen.

Professor Guillaume De Bo, an expert in Organic Chemistry at The University of Manchester, expressed, "Forces are ubiquitous in nature and play pivotal roles in various processes. Our aim was to exploit these forces for transformative applications, particularly in material durability and drug delivery. Although this is only a proof-of-concept design, we believe that our rotaxane-based approach holds immense potential with far-reaching applications -- we're on the brink of some truly remarkable advancements in healthcare and technology."

Traditionally, the controlled release of molecules with force has faced challenges in releasing more than one molecule at once, often operating through a molecular "tug of war" game where two polymers pull at either side to release a single molecule. However, the new approach developed by the researchers involves two polymer chains attached to a central ring-like structure that slide along an axle supporting the cargo, effectively releasing multiple cargo molecules in response to force application.

The scientists successfully demonstrated the release of up to five molecules simultaneously, with the possibility of releasing even more, overcoming previous limitations. This marks the first time scientists have been able to demonstrate the ability to release more than one component, making it one of the most efficient release systems to date. Moreover, the researchers showcased the versatility of the model by using different types of molecules, including drug compounds, fluorescent markers, catalysts, and monomers, revealing the potential for a wealth of future applications.

Looking ahead, the researchers aim to delve deeper into self-healing applications, exploring the possibility of releasing two different types of molecules at the same time. For example, the integration of monomers and catalysts could enable polymerization at the site of damage, creating an integrated self-healing system within materials. Furthermore, they will also seek to expand the types of molecules that can be released.

Professor De Bo emphasized, "We've barely scratched the surface of what this technology can achieve. The possibilities are limitless, and we're excited to explore further."

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