The nanoparticles developed by the researchers are coated with antibodies that attach to receptors found on the cell surfaces that line the intestines, allowing the nanoparticles to break through the intestinal walls and enter the bloodstream.

The study researchers used the nanoparticles to demonstrate oral delivery of insulin in mice and reported that these particles could be used to transport any kind of drug that can be encapsulated in a nanoparticle.

The researchers also reported that this type of drug delivery could also be useful in developing new treatments for conditions such as high cholesterol or arthritis.

BWH Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Biomaterials director and senior study author Dr Omid Farokhzad said the novelty of actively being able to transport targeted nanoparticles across cell barriers can potentially open up a whole new set of opportunities in nanomedicine.

"The body has receptors that are involved in shuttling proteins across barriers, as is the case in the placenta between the mother and fetus, or in the intestine, or between the blood and the brain," Dr Farokhzad added.

"By hitching a ride from these transporters the nanoparticles can enter various impermeable tissues."

The researchers are currently working to enhance the nanoparticles’ drug-releasing abilities to prepare for future pre-clinical testing with insulin and other drugs.

The researchers are also planning to design nanoparticles that can cross other barriers, such as the blood-brain barrier, which prevents many drugs from reaching the brain.

This research was supported by the Koch-Prostate Cancer Foundation Award in Nanotherapeutics; National Cancer Institute Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence at MIT-Harvard; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Program of Excellence in Nanotechnology Award, National Institutes of Health.