Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Fit to Burst
25 December 2012

Fit to Burst

These brightly-coloured spheres might look like Christmas tree decorations, but inside our bodies they do more than just hang around. Liposomes are man-made ‘bombs’ – each measuring 1,000 times smaller than a festive bauble or hand grenade – moulded from the same materials as the bendy membranes inside our cells. The different blends of lipid [fat] and protein molecules in these designs have produced unique patterns in fluorescent dyes visible under a microscope. Pretty as they are, only certain liposomes have the strength and flexibility to do an explosive delivery job. Piped full of drugs and injected into the body, liposomes can be primed to burst open when they collide with the membranes of unhealthy cells. The swirling textures of these tiny smart bombs offer clues about how our natural membranes act as selective barriers – keeping volatile chemicals separate while allowing others to mix in vital, life-giving reactions.

Written by John Ankers

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