A new medicine hailed as a magic bullet could revolutionise the treatment of intensive care patients with lung disorders, scientists claim.
The new drug - developed by researchers at Queen's University, Belfast - could become the first effective treatment for acute lung injury (ALI) which claims the lives of thousands of people every year.
If successful the nanoparticle, which measures around one billionth of a metre, could also be used to treat other common lung disorders such as COPD and Cystic Fibrosis.
"Nanoparticles are perhaps one of the most exciting new approaches to drug development.
"Most research in the area focuses on how the delivery of drugs to the disease site can be improved in these minute carriers. Our own research in this area focuses on how nanoparticles interact with cells and how this can be exploited to produce therapeutic effects both in respiratory disease and cancer," said Professor Chris Scott from Queen's school of pharmacy, who is leading the research.
Acute lung injury (ALI) is a condition which affects about 20% of all patients in intensive care. Patients can become critically ill and develop problems with breathing when their lungs become inflamed and fill with fluid. They frequently require ventilators to aid breathing.
There are 15,000 cases of ALI every year in the UK. The main causes are road traffic accidents and infections, and many with the condition die as a result of lung failure.
At present there are no effective treatments for acute lung injury because of the difficulty in reaching the inflammation.
The new nanoparticle from Queen's has a surface which allows it to recognise and bind to immune cells called macrophages in the lungs - key to the uncontrolled inflammation that occurs in ALI. This binding induces a rapid reduction in the inflammation, and has the potential to prevent the damaging effects that will otherwise occur in the lungs of ALI patients.
Prof Scott said the new medicine would help save lives, money and would improve the quality of life of ALI survivors.