Inhaler Drug Delivery Gets a Micro-Makeover

Business Jun 30, 2010

These spheres are 1 - 2 microns (one-millionth of a meter) in diameter. For scale, the average airborne pollen is 90 - 10 microns in diameter.

Duke and Roberts inhaler medications

Inhalers offer an effective way to deliver medicine. They’ve become vital life lines for asthma and emphysema sufferers.

But when the lung is the target for the drug, particles delivered by inhaler devices must have certain properties – sizes, shapes, surfaces, and drug loadings. Particles that are the wrong size or shape or charge get stuck in the mouth and throat, or the wrong part of the lung – never making it to where they are needed for healing or relief.

How to manufacture particles for these delivery applications is a challenge.  We’re talking about drug particles on the order of trillionths of a gram.


Auburn chemical engineers Steve Duke and Chris Roberts are working on spray processes in supercritical fluids to make particles that are effective and processes that are efficient. They use the thermodynamics and transport phenomena in these systems to control and design particle formation processes and properties.

Drugs and polymers are mixed with a solvent, like ethanol, and sprayed through a nozzle thinner than a human hair into a carbon dioxide filled pressure vessel. Particles precipitate out having formed into smooth, equally-sized spheres.

Duke and Roberts obtain visualizations and high resolution images of the process, allowing researchers to understand and control the precise effects of different solvents and conditions on different drugs and polymers.

Efficient processes. Effective particles. Better medicines.

Principal Investigators

Dr. Steve Duke

Research Interests: Alternative Fuels Processing and Combustion, Environmental and Industrial Separations, Polymer and Pharmaceutical Particle Formation Processes, Air-Water Gas Exchange, Paper Recycling and Deinking Processes, Optical Methods and Image Processing, Advanced Technology Education

Dr. Christopher B. Roberts

Research Interests: Supercritical fluid (SCF) and tunable solvent technologies; nanomaterials synthesis in tunable solvents; heterogeneous and homogeneous reactions in SCFs; fuel synthesis gas-to-liquids technologies.

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