Using Grapefruit to Deliver Medicine

Ernie NeffGrapefruit

grapefruit
Huang-Ge Zhang

University of Louisville (UofL) researchers have found a less toxic way to deliver medicines by using the natural lipids in plants, particularly grapefruit and ginger.

The UofL technologies use exosomes, which are very small fragments of living, edible plant cells, to transport various therapeutic agents, including anti-cancer drugs, DNA/RNA and proteins such as antibodies. These exosomes help ensure the drug is properly absorbed by the body. 

Current practice is to use nanoparticles or liposomes made from synthetic materials to deliver these medicines. However, these materials are more expensive to produce in large quantities and can cause adverse health effects, such as cell toxicity and chronic inflammation. Edible plant-derived exosomes don’t have these problems, said UofL’s Huang-Ge Zhang. He added that the exosomes come from natural, readily available sources and have anti-inflammatory effects. Zhang works at UofL’s James Graham Brown Cancer Center and Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

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The resulting intellectual property portfolio consisting of 12 patent families invented by Zhang has been licensed to Boston-based Senda BioSciences. UofL’s technology is part of Senda’s efforts to develop novel drug delivery platforms to solve the challenges of transferring therapeutics across biological barriers and throughout the body.

“Our exosomes come from fruit or other edible plants — something good for you, that you buy in the grocery store and that humans have eaten forever,” said Zhang, an endowed professor of microbiology and immunology. “And they don’t require synthetic formulation.”

The exosomes made from fruit lipids also can be modified to target and deliver medications to specific cell types within the body — like homing missiles, Zhang said. For example, the exosomes could be engineered to deliver a cancer therapeutic directly to cancer cells.

Zhang originally experimented with other fruits, including tomatoes and grapes. His epiphany came while eating a grapefruit. He realized his breakfast was chock-full of natural lipids that could be harvested to make exosomes at a larger scale.

“These technologies could make a real difference in drug delivery, improving access and costs while reducing side effects,” said Guillame Pfefer, chief executive officer of Senda Biosciences.

Learn about another new use for a grapefruit ingredient.  

Source: University of Louisville

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