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Getting nosey about improving drug treatment options

CMU researchers discover more effective ways to administer medication

Contact: Dan Digmann


​​The potential key to improving medical treatment methods is right in front of our eyes, literally.​

A team of Central Michigan University engineering students found that administering drugs through the nose is a quicker and more efficient way to deliver medications directly to the brain. More specifically, the undergraduate students showed how directly targeting the medicine to olfactory nerves deep inside the nasal cavity improves drug delivery by more than 15 percent over standard nasal sprays.

Such a method could revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry, said Jinxiang Xi, the assistant professor of mechanical engineering who oversaw the team's work.

"Many of the drugs for treating diseases like Alzheimer's, depression, ADHD and Parkinson's still are predominantly using injections and oral medications," Xi said. "Only a small fraction use nasal delivery, and that is where we see the opportunity for improved treatments." 

The research — "Visualization and Quantification of Nasal and Olfactory Deposition in a Sectional Adult Nasal Airway Cast" — has such potential that it was included and featured on the cover of the prestigious journal Pharmaceutical Research last June.

The team used a colored, gel-based method — the Sar-Gel based colorimetry method — to test four nasal spray pumps and four nebulizers with standard and point-release administration techniques. Results showed the majority of nasal spray droplets stayed within the anterior region of the nose while less than 4.6 percent reached the olfactory region.

"This is all part of the learning process, and I hope it will give me an advantage when I apply for graduate school," said Yu Zhang, a senior mechanical engineering major from Shanghai, China, who was a member of the research team. "I kept thinking I should be watching this kind of work being done on the Discovery Channel, but I'm the one who's doing it,"

Xi explained the team used advanced 3-D printer imaging to create an MRI-based nasal airway to explore multiple strategies to deliver medications to the olfactory mucosa, which is a gateway to the human brain. This is because the olfactory nerves, which are responsible for the sense of smell, penetrate the plate that separates the nasal cavity from the brain and olfactory bulb. As a result, drugs delivered to the olfactory region can avoid the blood-brain barrier and achieve direct nose-to-brain drug delivery.

The team's recent attempt at electric-guidance of charged particles showed a much improved 15 percent delivery efficiency to the olfactory region.

"We were looking to see where the medicine goes and how long it stays in one place," Xi said. "The drug can be carried by the nerves into the brain, so it is important to ensure the targeted delivery to that specific region."

Continued work is needed to further develop this idea of administering medicines into the nose, Xi said. He is optimistic that such a more efficient method will help to lower medication costs and side effects because less medicine potentially will be needed to treat various diseases and conditions.


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