Iron oxide nanoparticles are intensely researched for their use in medicine, e.g., as contrast agents and to direct and release drugs. Their beneficial properties come from that as nanoscale crystals they are superparamagnetic, which means that they act like tiny magnets only when you apply a magnetic field to them. Magnetic fields are generally safe for biological tissue and therefore extensively used for imaging and in therapies. Since iron oxide particles lose these properties as well as get cleared rapidly by the body if they clump together, they must be given a biocompatible coating of organic that keeps them stable in a biological fluid such as blood.
There are also many biologically derived molecules used in medical therapies, and more are discovered by the day. One such exciting class of molecules are sophorolipids from the yeast Starmerella bombicola. They have demonstrated benefits from being antibacterial to target and combat cancer cells. However, to be active in the body, they have to be distributed through the body to the desired place of action. On their own, they also aggregate into large structures that are cleared as foreign to the body.
In close collaboration with Dr. Niki Baccile at Sorbonne University in Paris, we employed our expertise in the synthesis and functionalization of iron oxide nanoparticles to make unique glycosylated nanoparticles that had a thin coating of sophorolipids around the core. We demonstrated the unique structure and stability of these particles and performed first tests of their interaction with cells in work recently published in ACS Applied Bio Materials as “Biocompatible Glyconanoparticles by Grafting Sophorolipid 2 Monolayers on Monodispersed Iron Oxide Nanoparticles”.