Wouldn’t it be better to feel the effect of medicine much sooner when administered into our bodies? With the evolution of technology, Prof. Liana Vella-Zarb, a material chemist at the Department of Chemistry, University of Malta, and also the founder of the PharmaTaxis project, developed a new way of administering medicine to patients. Vella-Zarb and her team came up with ‘drug taxis’ that administer medication to the exact part of a body by manipulating crystal atoms. This allows for a safer and more effective medical treatment.
The most common ways of administering medicine are; through injection, orally as pills or directly in the blood. But these methods take a long time to take effect on the affected area which reduces the efficacy of the medicine. Drug taxis are more efficient in that a patient will need a lower dosage, reduced negative side effects, and more effective treatment results. The crystal atoms act as protection for the medicines and unravel only when they reach where they are needed in the body through a process called active targeting: hence the name drug taxis.
Vella-Zarb and her team use X-ray crystallography to figure out if the crystals have the right properties to deliver the medicine effectively. The atoms in the crystals determine the properties of crystalline structures, how they are arranged and how they bond with other atoms around it. To transport and release the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), you need to have a clear understanding of how crystals are formed, the atomic structures of the drug and also the conditions of the medicine’s target site.
“We like to push the boundaries when it comes to crystallisation and co-crystallisation environments.”
It is Vella-Zarb and PharmaTaxis’ dream that this project will soon be realised into reality. The team was able to land funding from the European Regional Development Fund worth €4.8 million. With this fund they were able to secure new laboratories where they are able to create and analyse designer crystals with the Chemistry Department of the University of Malta.
If you want to find out more about PharmaTaxis, check out the full version of the article in the latest issue of THINK. A digital version of the magazine can be found online.