Yunfeng Lu Develops Artificial Organelles

Yunfeng Lu has developed a nanoscale shell that can mimic organelles by delivering precisely formulated enzyme combinations intact into the body to serve therapeutic functions.

UCLA professor Lu led a team including USC professor Cheng Ji to develop nanocapsules containing enzymes. In a demonstration of the efficacy of this novel delivery method, they injected nanocapsules containing enzymes that metabolize alcohol into drunken mice and successfully reduced their blood alcohol levels.

Lu’s study demonstrated that nanocapsules can be used to deliver precisely formulated therapeutic enzyme combinations — a feat medical researchers have been attempting for decades. The new delivery method could revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry by allowing far greater efficiencies as well as new enzyme therapies that simply aren’t possible without effective delivery methods.

By delivering functional enzyme complexes the nanocapsules made of nontoxic polymer “almost mimics an organelle,” explained Lu, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. The capsule serves to stabilize and protect the enzymes, which are proteins that catalyze a wide range of biological processes, allowing them to perform potentially wide-ranging therapeutic functions.

Organelles are enclosed “mini-organs” within cells and contain a mix of enzymes that work to perform essential biological functions. Until Lu’s study, medical researchers haven’t been able to develop injectable enzyme complexes that can survive the delivery process.

The nanocapsules devised by Lu and Ji contained two enzymes — oxidase, which produces hydrogen peroxide, and a second enzyme that decomposes the potentially harmful by-product. The mice receiving the nanocapsule injections showed a rapid drop in their blood alcohol level compared with controls.

Lu says their breakthrough suggests a way to deliver an alcohol prophylactic or antidote orally, creating “almost like millions of liver cell units inside your stomach or in your intestine, helping you to digest alcohol.”

Lu and Ji are already working with the pharmaceutical companies on various therapies using their nanocapsules. One is a hair-loss prevention drug that would deliver through the skin an enzyme that breaks down dihydrotestosterone (commonly called DHT) which causes male pattern baldness.

Lu is a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. He obtained his BS from Jilin University in 1991 and his MS from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1994. In 1998 he earned his PhD from the University of New Mexico, then began working as a postdoctoral researcher at the US Energy Department’s Sandia National Laboratories. In 2000 he joined Applied Materials as a senior process engineer. A year later he became an assistant professor at Tulane University. In 2005 he was promoted to endowed professor with tenure. He moved to UCLA in 2006.

Ji is a professor of biochemical and molecular biology. The results of their study was published Wednesday in Nature Nanotechnology.