K-State Researchers Discover New Way to Deliver Drugs

Peptides could serve as system to deliver drugs to fight cancer and neurodegenerative diseases

Published on: Oct 5, 2012

Kansas State University researchers have discovered a molecule that may be capable of delivering drugs inside the body to treat diseases.

For the first time, researchers have designed and created a membrane-bounded vesicle formed entirely of peptides -- molecules made up of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. The membrane could serve as a new drug delivery system to safely treat cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

A study led by John Tomich, professor of biochemistry at Kansas State University, has been published in the journal PLOS ONE in September, and a patent for the discovery is pending.

For the first time, researchers have designed and created a membrane-bounded vesicle formed entirely of peptides -- molecules made up of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. The membrane could serve as a new drug delivery system to safely treat cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.
For the first time, researchers have designed and created a membrane-bounded vesicle formed entirely of peptides -- molecules made up of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. The membrane could serve as a new drug delivery system to safely treat cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

What are peptides?

The peptides are a set of self-assembling branched molecules made up of naturally occurring amino acids. The chemical properties of a peptide create a vesicle that Tomich describes as a bubble: It's made up of a thin membrane and is hollow inside. Created in a water solution, the bubble is filled with water rather than air.

The peptides -- or bubbles -- can be made in a solution containing a drug or other molecule that becomes encapsulated as the peptide assembles, yielding a trapped compound, much like a gelatin capsule holds over-the-counter oral remedies. The peptide vesicles could be delivered to appropriate cells in the body to treat diseases and minimize potential side effects.

"We see this as a new way to deliver any kind of molecule to cells," Tomich said. "We know that in certain diseases subpopulations of cells have gone awry, and we'd like to be able to specifically target them instead of attacking every cell, including healthy ones."