Auburn researchers discover drug-release methods that reduce dosages and side effects

AUBURN – Auburn University researchers Mark Byrne and Jacek Wower have developed a way to control the release of drugs into the body and, as a result, reduce the frequency of doses and side effects from multiple medications.

Their work involves harnessing the power of nucleic acids to control the rate, release amount and delivery location of medications throughout the body.

“We anticipate tremendous benefits to the treatment of various cancers and viral infections,” said Wower. “There is a need to create tailor-made treatments for these kinds of diseases because one person may respond differently to a medication than another. Medicine of the future will take into account a unique genetic blueprint of every patient, increased risks for certain illnesses and how patients respond to disease and therapy.”

Byrne and Wower, along with doctoral student Siddarth Venkatesh, used tiny RNA molecules called aptamers to control the release of drugs. For each patient, the drug delivery can be set to occur at various rates or under certain conditions, including exposure to an enzyme or reaching a specific temperature. Unlike past studies, this technology is capable of delivering doses of multiple drugs at different rates or a single drug at controllable and extended rates from one medical device.

“Nucleic acids work well for controlled drug delivery because they can easily be programmed to bind therapeutics, metals, other nucleic acids and proteins,” said Byrne. “Based on the patient’s needs, the strength of the binding can cause drugs to release at varying rates and amounts over a certain time and can be controlled in a variety of ways.”

The research team, which now includes doctoral student Padma Sundaram, is also using gold nanoparticles for targeting specific cells to deliver injectable drugs. The gold nanoparticles are biodegradable or excretable and can be injected directly into the bloodstream along with the medication. The combination could prove to be an important step for providing multiple-drug releasing carriers capable of delivering the right amount of medication at the right time.

Wower, a professor in Auburn’s Department of Animal Sciences, is a biochemist who studies the structure and function of RNA molecules. For more than 35 years, he has conducted research in biochemistry, molecular biology and bioinformatics, which involves the development of techniques to solve biological problems and better understand biological processes on a molecular level.

Byrne, whose expertise is biomedical engineering, biomaterials, biomedical devices and drug delivery, is the Sanders Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Auburn. He is the founder and chief technical officer of OcuMedic Inc., a biomedical devices company that has created a number of innovative contact lenses to deliver medications to the surface of the eye, an improvement over standard eye drops. He and Wower recently presented their findings at the annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers meeting in Philadelphia.

Venkatesh completed his doctoral degree in chemical engineering at Auburn and is now a researcher at Rockefeller University in New York.

More information about this technology and technology transfer through Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering is available at

(Written by Sally Credille.)

Contact: Sally Credille, (334) 844-3447 (, or
Charles Martin, (334) 844-9999 (