Backgrounder - Important funding for nanomedicine research to improve diagnosis and treatment

[ Press Release 2011-07 ]

Dr. Daniel Côté and his team from the Université Laval are working on a project that could help improve the way we detect multiple sclerosis (MS). The project, entitled "In vivo identification of microlesions in multiple sclerosis: a new tool for quantification of disease aetiology and treatment efficacy", seeks to develop a more sensitive method of detecting the lesions that are characteristic of multiple sclerosis (MS). The researchers also aim to identify biomarkers (biological indicators) that can be used to assess the onset and progression of the disease and the therapeutic effects of drugs on animal models of MS. At the end of the project, the researchers will have developed multiple imaging methods to detect MS, used these methods to identify the cellular and molecular signatures of the various stages of MS, and identified the sequence of events that occur during MS. They will also expand our understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms that lead to demyelination (a characteristic of MS) and propose new targets to slow down demyelination and/or promote remyelination.

Dr. Pieter Cullis and his colleagues, from the University of British Columbia, are developing personalized nanomedicines that can silence cancer-causing genes. The researchers will use a technology known as lipid nanoparticles (LNP) to deliver small interfering RNA (siRNA) that turn off specific genes in liver and prostate cancer. Cullis and his team also plan to optimize the current manufacturing technology for siRNA-LNP preparation, to demonstrate the silencing of two genes (Hsp27 and Clusterin) in mouse models of prostate cancer using a prostate-specific siRNA-LNP, and to define a plan for future clinical studies of personalized siRNA-LNP therapeutics. If successful, their work will represent an important step forward in the field of personalized cancer treatment.

Dr. Shana Kelley and her team from the University of Toronto will be developing "Microchip-based devices for the analysis of circulating prostate cancer markers". In the past decade, a compelling body of evidence has proven that low levels of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) are present in, and can be isolated from, the bloodstream of prostate cancer patients harboring both localized and metastatic disease. In this project, Dr. Kelley and her team will develop and test a fully integrated, automated, and validated device that can detect CTCs in prostate cancer patients. Nanotextured microstructures developed by the principal investigators will be the key component of this new technology. This diagnostic device will help clinicians detect prostate cancer earlier and distinguish aggressive forms of the disease from non-aggressive forms, improving treatment decisions.

Dr. Timothy Kieffer and his co-investigators from the University of British Columbia will focus on the "Generation of Transplantable Beta-Cells from Human Embryonic Stem (hES) Cells". The majority of patients with type 1 diabetes, and approximately one third of those with type 2 diabetes require daily insulin injections to survive. Unfortunately this therapy seldom achieves optimal control of blood glucose levels, leaving millions of patients susceptible to the devastating complications of diabetes (including kidney failure and blindness), reduced quality of life, and decreased lifespan. They hope to develop a protocol for the differentiation of hES into insulin-producing pancreas cells, which could then be transplanted into diabetes patients, reversing the disease.

After spinal cord injuries (SCI) or stroke, the recovery of sensorimotor functions depends on plastic changes occurring at various levels of the central nervous system (CNS). Dr. Serge Rossignol and his colleagues at the Université de Montréal aim to promote this recovery using different approaches in clinical sciences, imaging and basic neurosciences.The team will develop patient-oriented mobility and balance therapeutic approaches. To enhance motor control the team will use: a mental practice protocol, biomechanical constraints (loading, robots) in rehabilitation, virtual reality and avatars for visual/auditory stimulation or enhancement of sensory information. Finally, because pain can prevent optimal rehabilitation, the team will develop approaches to control neuropathic pain.To assess the impact of these therapies, the team will use a variety of tools, from muscle strength measurements, to cognitive assessment tests, to functional MRI scans.

Regenerative medicine (RM) provides the possibility of replacing organs and tissues that have failed, but in order for these replacement parts to survive, the must have an adequate blood supply. To overcome this barrier, Dr. Michael Sefton and his multidisciplinary team at the University of Toronto will integrate studies of vascularization (blood vessel growth) with new knowledge about endothelial cell (EC) biology. In a novel approach known as Modular Tissue Engineering EC are seeded on to a collagen gel module. These modules drive a remodeling process, and the outcome is a mature, functional vascular supply. The team's goal is to generate a mature, functional vasculature that forms in a clinically useful time-frame.

Nanotechnology-enabled diagnosis and treatment have enormous potential to aid timely clinical interventions to mitigate patient risk. Dr. Gang Zheng and his team at the University Health Network will address the substantial gap between fabricating nanoparticles (NP) for pre-clinical research and creating agents suitable for in-human trials. To accomplish this, they will focus on nanotechnology-enabled image-guided interventions (NanoIGI) for lung cancer and vascular lesion diseases, such as atherosclerosis. The goals are: (1) to develop gold as a probe integrated with a novel endoscopic imaging instrument for improving lung cancer diagnostics; (2) to create new therapeutics for atherosclerosis by utilizing nanoparticles to deliver small molecules to stabilize the plaques and reduce/reverse lesion progression; (3) to integrate these complementary NP platforms and imaging technologies into novel and pathophysiologically relevant image-guided interventions. Success should result in health, economic and social benefits, through innovative and effective NP-based interventions for patients with lung cancer or atherosclerosis diseases.