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Synthetic Protein Nanoparticles: An Overview

The advancement of nanotechnology and its real-world applications have illustrated the need to generate a large number of nanoparticles that are uniform in size and shape.

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Nanoparticles are known for their nano-scale size being less than 100 nm. Their formulation using metals has been widely researched, such as using gold nanoparticles for precision targeting or silver nanoparticles for antimicrobial activity. However, their small nano-scale size creates challenges such as the ability to produce a large volume of these novel particles, which are uniform – creating nanoparticles with the same structure at an atomic level has become an obstacle for researchers.

Collaborating researchers from Japan have managed to solve this problem with their novel development of a uniform supramolecular protein nanoparticle, symmetrically self-assembled from fusion proteins.

The progression of nanoparticle research has been significant over recent years, with researchers providing comprehension about how synthetic nanoparticles can be formed while having the ability and complexity to function with high intricacy levels previously held by their natural counterparts, biomolecules.

The idea of nanotechnology can be attributed to Richard Feynman in 1959 as a method of producing smaller machines that could be used to manipulate matter at an atomic level. This field has grown exponentially, and nanoparticles have become a highly functional and useful component that can be used for various applications within advancing biotechnology and electronics to biomedicine within medical therapeutics.

A full list of available Nanoparticle Production Systems are listed here.Using nanoparticles within drug delivery has become a significant and natural avenue due to the similar size of nanoparticles to cells found in the body, which can assist with natural interactions between the two. The use of these highly functional synthetic particles aimed to improve the limitations of conventional small molecule-based therapeutics. This is through loading active ingredients within drugs within the nanoparticles, which would then carry them to the desired destination.

 The precise targeting of these particles can also be exploited and ensure the concentration of the drugs is within the problem area, having less effect on the healthier areas. Additionally, this is also beneficial due to reducing the toxicity of drugs on cells, which helps to benefit patient care.

Overcoming Nanoparticle Challenges Related StoriesAn obstacle that has challenged researchers within nanotechnology has been the ability to produce a large number of uniform structures of synthetic protein nanoparticles. This problem can be understandable due to the nano-scale size of these particles.

A collaborative group of researchers, led by Associate Professor Ryoichi Arai from Shinshu University, Japan, and Assistant Professor Norifumi Kawakami from Keio University, Japan, have developed a uniform supramolecular protein nanoparticle, TIP60, as a way of overcoming this barrier in nanoparticle advancement.

The TIP60, standing for Truncated Icosahedral Protein composed of 60-mer fusion proteins, is a novel development that was symmetrically self-assembled from fusion proteins of a pentameric Sm-like protein and a dimeric MyoX-coil domain. This innovation is formed by self-assembling 60-meric artificial fusion proteins and the team enabled this protein nanoparticle to allow modification of its functionality through site-specific mutagenesis or chemical modification.

The novel protein nanoparticle can form hollow nanoparticles as designed; being able to formulate this type of structure is significant. The research found that a large amount of TIP60 was expressed in E. coli, and a purified sample was observed using a single-particle cryo-electron microscopy by Professor Masahide Kikkawa’s laboratory at the University of Tokyo. The significance of this includes the ability to produce large numbers of this synthetic protein nanoparticle with a uniform shape and size.

The Future of NanotechnologyThe future work of these researchers includes building upon this research and advancing the nanoparticle design and functional modification of site-specific variants. Doing so would be useful for advancing medicine and drug therapeutics for use as a nanocapsule or carrier for an advanced drug delivery system. Having uniformity of these particles instills more confidence in the reliability of these particles before their use in vivo.

 Having in vitro experiments would be helpful to progress the use of these synthetic protein nanoparticles while observing their interaction with other cells and how they can be used to deliver substances.

Synthetic protein nanoparticles have improved from the start of their creation. By modifying their functionality, they can be used for various applications as they would be able to be compatible with various molecules, from radiolabels to dye. Furthermore, exploiting their nano-scale size, uniformity, and large-scale production would result in higher commercial use in the wider medical and pharmaceutical industry, advancing therapeutics and improving patient care.

Continue reading: Post-Pandemic Outlook for Antiviral Nanoparticles and Nanofiber Filters.​​​​​​​

Further Reading and ReferencesObata, J., Kawakami, N., Tsutsumi, A., Nasu, E., Miyamoto, K., Kikkawa, M. and Arai, R., (2021) Icosahedral 60-meric porous structure of designed supramolecular protein nanoparticle TIP60. Chemical Communications, 57(79), pp.10226-10229. Available at: (2021) 3D structure of artificially designed protein nanoparticle TIP60 elucidated by cryo-electron microscopy. [online] Available at:

Science Daily. (2017) Synthetic nanoparticles achieve the complexity of protein molecules. [online] Available at:

Quevedo, D., (2021) Design, Applications, and Processing of Synthetic Protein Nanoparticles. [online] Available at:​​​​​​

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Written by

Marzia KhanMarzia Khan is a lover of scientific research and innovation. She immerses herself in literature and novel therapeutics which she does through her position on the Royal Free Ethical Review Board. Marzia has a MSc in Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine as well as a BSc in Biomedical Sciences. She is currently working in the NHS and is engaging in a scientific innovation program.


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870292.