Targeted Delivery of Nanotherapeutics to the Placenta

  • Anna King

    Student thesis: Phd


    During pregnancy the placenta is responsible for ensuring sufficient nutrient transfer and gaseous exchange between the maternal and fetal circulations. Fetal growth restriction (FGR), defined as the inability of the fetus to grow to its genetically determined potential, is often the result of a poorly functioning placenta. Unfortunately there is currently no treatment for FGR except to deliver the fetus early, which has a high risk of morbidity and mortality. Several drugs have previously been shown to enhance placental function and in doing so have improved fetal growth and viability in both human and animal studies. However, the risk of teratogenesis prevents these drugs from reaching the clinic. We have developed a way of targeting drugs specifically to the placenta with the aim of enhancing placental function, increasing fetal growth and improving fetal outcome, whilst minimising off target side effects. Biocompatible nanoparticles called liposomes were prepared to display the homing peptide sequences iRGD and CGKRK, both of which bind to the human and mouse placental exchange regions, to created targeted liposomes. We report that these peptide-decorated liposomes bound to the mouse and human placenta and were able to deliver a fluorescent cargo to the area. Insulin-like growth factors-I and -II (IGF-I and IGF-II) were separately incorporated inside of the targeted liposomes and administered as a biological cargo to pregnant mice. IGFs are particularly important for placental and fetal growth and can improve fetal growth and viability. Treatment in healthy pregnant C57/BL6J mice increased placental weight, but not fetal weight. Treatment in mice displaying an FGR phenotype (P0+/-) increased the weight of the lightest fetuses, but did not affect normally grown fetuses. Treatment was well tolerated and did not cause any gross pathology in mothers or fetuses. These data provide proof of principle for targeted delivery of drugs to the placenta and are a novel platform for the development of placental-specific therapeutics to treat conditions such as FGR.
    Date of Award1 Aug 2016
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Manchester
    SupervisorJohn Aplin (Supervisor), Nicola Tirelli (Supervisor) & Lynda Harris (Supervisor)


    • Homing peptide
    • Liposome
    • Drug delivery
    • Placenta
    • Insulin-like growth factors

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