A carrier perfected by nature

Pollen grains not only carry sperm from male to female flowering plants, they also protect the delicate genetic material housed within from heat, UV radiation, water loss and chemicals.

Harnessing the protective traits of pollen grains, scientists from NTU and South Korea’s Sungkyunkwan University developed a technique to remove genetic material and potential allergenic proteins from the grains, leaving behind empty shells that can be used to encapsulate drug compounds.

“Pollen grains such as those from sunflowers are biocompatible and widely accepted as a source of nutrients, making them ideal drug delivery vehicles,” explains Assoc Prof Cho Nam-Joon of NTU’s School of Materials Science and Engineering, who led the study.

Tests simulating gastric conditions showed that compounds encapsulated in cleared-out sunflower pollen grains were released over several hours after an initial inhibition period, demonstrating that the pollen grains can be used to deliver drugs to the intestines without releasing their cargo prematurely in the mouth or stomach.

In addition to oral drug delivery, the pollen grain capsules could potentially be used to replace harmful plastic microbeads commonly found in consumer products such as cosmetics and toothpaste, which would also reduce environmental pollution caused by microplastics, the researchers say.

The article “Plant-based hollow microcapsules for oral delivery applications: Toward optimised loading and controlled release” was published in Advanced Functional Materials (2017), DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201700270, and made the cover of the issue.
This article appeared first in NTU’s research & innovation magazine Pushing Frontiers (issue #14, December 2018).

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