Plastics in Your Body: The Pulse of the Planet daily radio program offers free legal online mp3 downloads, exploring the world of sound in nature, culture and science, with audio adventures, world music, extraordinary sound portraits, science diaries, and nature ring-tones; an amazing sonic experience.

Airdate: Aug 25, 2017
Scientist: Tim Long

Plastics in Your Body

Plastics in Your Body
"Take me into the cell! Don't kill me!"

Plastics in Your Body

We're listening to the sounds of a laboratory where researchers are developing plastics that can better deliver drugs to precisely where they're needed in our bodies. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Long: We are constantly searching for how do we put "plastics" in the body. "Plastics" I put in quotes cause it's not a plastic bottle that we're sticking in the body. This is a polymer that maybe takes the function of something that has worn out. Or something that we're trying to cure.

Tim Long is the Associate Dean for Research at Virginia Tech's College of Science.

Long: So for example, trying to introduce a drug to a cancer cell, could we use a plastic or a polymer to target that delivery to that disease site? Those are things that we didn't even imagine 30 years ago.
The body is very good at preventing things from entering it. Think about our skin. Our skin is an incredible barrier to a lot of bad things in this world. So putting things in a human cell which also has a cellular membrane around it, is like a force field. So coming up with a molecule that will help, almost chaperone: "Hold my hand- take me into the cell. And by the way don't kill my cell. Don't kill me! Don't hurt me in any way. Only do the positive." So, coming up with that chaperone, that polymer, that would bind to that drug and say "Open up the door and go in," that's a completely different paradigm.

So if we think about the chaperone being sustainable or bio-based, now you're using a chaperone, a plastic, bio-based, that chaperones a drug into a body into a cell. That's a big challenge.
Something like this requires a very interdisciplinary approach. So we need to have good partnerships between biologists and physicians and chemists!

I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.