Skip to Content
Nanogel patented by FIU researchers has potential to change future of medicine
The patented nanogel delivers drugs to a specific target sparing nearby tissue and resulting in less side effects.

Nanogel patented by FIU researchers has potential to change future of medicine

March 1, 2022 at 3:30pm

By Adrienne Sylver

A unique nanogel developed by researchers at the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine shows great promise in its ability to precisely deliver drugs that inhibit the growth of HIV cells and prevent diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

The nanogel compound, for which FIU has received a patent in the United States, could have a worldwide impact. Because it is non-toxic, organic and inexpensive to produce, it could offer a safe and affordable solution for developing nations that do not have access to or resources for cutting-edge treatments.

“It seems that the nanogel will have many applications,” said Distinguished University Professor Madhavan Nair, founding chair of the college’s Department of Immunology and NanoMedicine. An internationally renowned expert in nanotechnology and HIV research, Nair is also associate dean of biomedical research, associate vice president of nanomedicine and director of FIU’s Institute of NeuroImmune Pharmacology. The nanogel is one of 15 patents issued to Nair as an inventor.

The growth of nanotechnology, particularly in medicine, has exploded in recent years. With 25.4 million nanometers in an inch, nanogel particles are so tiny that they can only be seen with high-powered microscopes. Medical applications range from expanding imaging and diagnostic techniques, to bone and neural tissue engineering, to the highly targeted delivery of drugs. This area of research involves attaching nanoparticles onto drugs or liposomes to increase specific localization. Since different cell types have unique properties, nanotechnology can be used to “recognize” cells of interest.

As investigators in FIU’s Department of Immunology & NanoMedicine explored the molecular mechanism of viruses and diseases, they knew they needed new materials and approaches to combat illnesses. The synthesized nanogel is one of the products of their research.

“We are very optimistic and hopeful that this not only leads to better treatments but that it also can be used prophylactically to prevent diseases altogether,” said Nair, who leads the project’s investigative team that includes lead researchers Arti Vashist and virologist Andrea Raymond.

Like their bigger cousin, hydrogel (think diapers, contact lenses, and wound-healing patches), nanogels can absorb large amounts of fluid without dissolving. In addition, they can be manipulated into different sizes and shapes, making it possible for them to carry medications throughout the body and deliver them precisely to a tumor or diseased cells. Because the nanogel releases the drug where it is most needed, nearby healthy tissues are spared, and patients experience fewer side effects.

FIU’s soft, polymer-based nanogel counts the readily available and organic linseed oil among its ingredients. In small animal studies, it has proved to have fluorescent properties, which is very useful in medicine. “It was very exciting to discover that in addition to its anti-viral properties, the nanogel could be tracked in imaging,” Vashist said. “That’s important because it enables you to see where it goes and that it travels to the precise location where it is needed.”

In addition, the ability to use an organic and natural fluorescent material in medical imaging could revolutionize the field, Nair said. “We might be able to eliminate the toxic chemical dyes that are used today in some imaging studies,” he said.

For Raymond, the nanogel’s anti-viral properties are exciting and deserving of more study. “We need to understand where and how the nanogel is interacting and why there is a viral-inhibiting effect.”

The scientists’ work is partly funded by the National Institutes of Health, and Vashist recently received a Young Investigator Pilot Award from the National Cancer Institute’s AIDS and Cancer Specimen Resource for continued work on the nanogel.

Early research shows that in some instances, the nanogel also has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. If so, it could eliminate HIV-infected cells that hide in the brain and change the way a host of neurological diseases are treated. The blood-brain barrier protects the brain from bad actors like germs or toxic substances. But in doing so, it also prevents most drugs from entering.

Promising inventions such as the nanogel have helped push FIU into the innovation spotlight. In 2020, FIU was awarded 60 patents and was ranked in the top 20 U.S. public universities for U.S. utility patent production and is in the top 50 (No. 42) among all universities in the world. U.S. News & World Report ranks FIU No. 17 in the category of most innovative public universities. In addition, Nair and 13 other members of the FIU community are Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors, the highest distinction awarded by the organization.

“These patents span the fields of engineering, computer information sciences, public health, chemistry, medicine, genetics, biology, psychology and physics,” said Pedro Hernandez, director, FIU Technology Management and Commercialization. “Over time, we have developed a culture that emphasizes innovation at FIU. Collaborating with experts such as Dr. Nair, and seeing novel ideas come to fruition, is what drives the advancement of FIU as a research university.” 


Andrea Raymond, Ph.D.; Madhavan Nair, Ph.D.; and Arti Vashist, Ph.D., pose with a plaque of the nanogel patent.