Sending active substances to where they are needed

A chemist in the SFB Polytarget uses a pipette to introduce cell samples into a

A chemist in the SFB Polytarget uses a pipette to introduce cell samples into a microtitre plate. Image: Jan-Peter Kasper (University of Jena)

Collaborative Research Centre "PolyTarget" receives German Research Foundation funding for second phase worth close to 15 million euros

Medicines usually have side effects because they have to be administered in higher doses to make sure that the active substance reaches the place where it is needed. Researchers at Friedrich Schiller University Jena have therefore dedicated themselves to the search for alternative carrier materials. Since 2017, in the Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) "PolyTarget", they have been developing systems that guide medicines straight to their destination and deliver the active substances exactly where they are needed. The Jena scientists are supported in their work by the German Research Foundation, which has now approved further funding of nearly 15 million euros for the next four years.

The CRC includes Jena researchers from the fields of chemistry, materials sciences, pharmacy and biochemistry, as well as doctors from Jena University Hospital and scientists from Jena’s Leibniz Institutes on Photonic Technology, Natural Product Research and Infection Biology, and Aging, and also the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. In the first funding phase, the CRC produced more than 200 publications, more than 110 of which were joint publications from multiple applicants.

Tailor-made particles 

"We package active substances into minute polymer nanoparticles which are tailor-made for their function," explains Prof. Ulrich S. Schubert, coordinator of the research consortium. Coupling antibodies, peptides or other molecules with specific recognition structures ensures that the nanoparticles only penetrate the desired target tissue. To increase circulation time in the body and minimise unwanted interactions with proteins, the nanoparticles can be made virtually "invisible" using what are called "stealth" polymers. For diagnostics, dyes are also encased in, or bound to, the carrier materials.

PolytTarget focuses on all aspects of the creation and efficient application of nanoparticles for treating inflammations. For example, the researchers are establishing polymer libraries, developing anti-inflammatory substances and modelling the interaction between active substances and polymers. Finally, they are testing the effectiveness of the new nanoparticles and developing biomedical assessment methods.

"The particular strength of the CRC is the ability to fully characterise all steps involved in the creation and application of nanoparticles," says Schubert. 

Nanoparticles against inflammatory processes

Newly developed active substances encapsulated by tissue-specific nanoparticles make it possible to resolve local and systemic inflammatory reactions and protect distant organs, thus preventing organ failure. The consortium is pursuing the long-term goal of developing cell-type-specific polymeric nanoparticles as drug carriers that selectively intervene in the various stages of inflammatory processes. In the second funding period, the CRC "PolyTarget" is also responding to the current pandemic and has set up a project area that specifically investigates viral-induced inflammatory reactions. The research results are being translated into applications in cooperation with start-ups for upcoming clinical trials. A recently approved translation project will expand the CRC in this regard.

"PolyTarget" will also contribute to knowledge transfer in the field of nanotechnology. As part of a newly established project, the researchers are introducing the topic of polymer-based nanoparticles into school lessons. This is aimed at integrating fundamental approaches and an understanding of them into the school curriculum, ensuring that children achieve a sound basic knowledge and thus inspiring future generations of researchers.


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