Aileen Li is working on the project. Firstly, a syringe is filled with a saline solution that contains tiny rods made of silica. Those rods form the basis of a new method to fight everything from cancer to ebola in the human body.
David Mooney, professor of bioengineering at Harvard University, says the human immune system is the most efficient weapon on the planet to fight disease. These rods will help to activate it to respond to threats.
“One could inject these through a needle because they are so small. And then, after they were in the body, they would be present in a fluid, in saline solution – or salt solution. And as that salt solution dissipated into the surrounding tissue, these particles would then collapse on each other and form this three-dimensional structure,” he explained.
This three-dimensional structure is basically a makeshift laboratory, which takes shape inside the body.
It plays the role of a trap, releasing drug molecules, which were implanted into nano-pores fitted on the rods to attract immune cells to the structure.
Li compares it to attracting a mouse with cheese.
“We utilise these nano-pores to release a factor that brings about millions and millions of immune cells to this local 3D structure. And there the cells reside in the pores that are formed between the micro-particles. And they are able to then be subsequently programmed to do their job,” she says.
At this point, the tiny lab turns into a factory, and puts the dendritic cells into action. Also known as accessory cells, dendritic are the body’s own surveillance tool and are used to identify threats.
The cells are reprogrammed and fitted with proteins to trigger an immune response in the body.
That is when the body starts combatting disease and infection.
In studies on animals, the research has proven highly effective. Scientists are hopeful this will become a powerful tool in humans’ fight against aggressive diseases in years to come.