The MIT team found that coating nanoparticles with the right-handed form of the amino acid cysteine helped the particles to avoid being destroyed by enzymes in the body.

This finding could help researchers to design more effective carriers for drugs to treat cancer and other diseases, says Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

Ana Jaklenec, a research scientist at the Koch Institute, is also a senior author of the paper, which appears in Advanced Materials on Nov. 4.

Other authors of the paper are former MIT postdocs Pedro Guimaraes and Kevin McHugh, MIT postdoc Quanyin Hu, and Koch Institute research affiliate Michael Mitchell.

For example, naturally occurring amino acids are always "L" enantiomers, while DNA and glucose are usually "D."

"Chirality is ubiquitous in nature, imparting uniqueness and specificity to the biological and chemical properties of materials," Yeom says.

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