Innovation Sphere


  • John Littleton
  • Luke Bradley
  • Barbara Knutson
  • Stephen Rankin



Project TitleNanoparticles for selectively harvesting pharmaceutical products from plant cells in culture.
Track Code2172
Short DescriptionNone
Tagsbiotech, bioactive plant metabolites; therapeutics; silica nanoparticles; nanoharvesting; environmentally friendly
Posted DateJul 24, 2017 3:12 PM


John Littleton
Luke Bradley
Barbara Knutson
Stephen Rankin


Don Keach

Key Advantages

  • Green alternative to standard  chemical synthesis or solvent extraction of bioactive plant metabolites
  • Cells are able to be used for repeated harvesting
  • Nanoparticles can be reused

Market Opportunities

Many therapeutic agents have been discovered through plants containing metabolites with bioactive properties that can be used to treat certain diseases. The pharmaceutical industry has used these bioactive plant metabolites as lead compounds for chemical and pharmacological screening. Additionally, many companies use bioactive plant metabolites as prodrugs and they are commonly produced directly from plant material or are chemically synthesized for therapeutic use. When chemical synthesis proves too complex, extraction of metabolites from plant products and/or plant cell culture is achieved using solvents and chromatographic methods which are detrimental to the environment. Additionally, these extraction methods do not allow for repeated use of the same plant material and are inefficient in production of bioactive metabolites. Thus, there is a need for a more efficient and environmentally friendly process to effectively extract plant metabolites for therapeutic use.

Technology Solution

Dr. Littleton and his colleagues have developed a method to harvest bioactive plant metabolites from plant cell cultures using silica nanoparticles. The desired metabolite is overexpressed in culture using gain-of-function mutations in the plant cells. Their nanoharvesting technology allows for the metabolite(s) of interest to be directly targeted via binding to specific receptors on the nanoparticles. The nanoparticles are extruded from within plant cells to the medium and the binding product can then be separated through elution and magnetization. After the metabolites are separated from the nanoparticles, the nanoparticles can then be reused. Additionally, the plant cell cultures retain their viability and can be used for repeated harvesting. This new technology does not require any solvents or harmful chemical processes for harvesting and has almost zero environmental impact. 

Commercialization Status

patent pending

Available Fields of Use

plant metabolite harvesting


John M. Littleton

Luke H. Bradley

Barbara Knutson

Stephen Rankin

Patent Number(s)

patent pending

UK OTC Contact

Eric M. Castlen

Associate Director, Technology Commercialization & Licensing

A151 ASTeCC Building

Lexington, KY 40506-0286

(859) 257-8211


File Name Description
Preliminary Market Assessment None Download