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Nanobiotechnology and Advanced Therapeutic Materials (NanoBioMat)

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The program “Nanobiotechnology and Advanced Therapeutic Materials” is characterized by highly interdisciplinary approaches to design and evaluate novel multifunctional imaging and biomedical systems. It combines researchers from the Zernike Institute of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and the University Medical Center Groningen and covers fundamental research as well as more applied science within clinical settings. This program takes into account the emergence of new innovative multicomponent materials with length scales on the nanometer regime and assesses their potential for combating severe diseases. The strong link between fundamental materials science and different medical disciplines allows more efficient translation of newly designed systems and materials into medical applications.

Programme Leaders   Mission  

Nanobiotechnology is a highly interdisciplinary research area. It is based on the interplay of contributions from chemistry, physics, biology, pharmacology, materials science, medicine and engineering. The integration of disciplines is exploited to generate structures with dimensions on the nanometer scale originating from biological or bioinspired components such as oligonucleotides, proteins, other (bio) polymers, viruses and cellular components. This set of soft nanomaterials is complemented by condensed matter structures, mainly inorganic nanoparticles consisting of metals and metal oxides.
Within this program we will employ tools and materials from nanobiotechnology to fabricate powerful drug carrier systems and nanoscale surface coatings. These systems will be composed to a large extent on oligonucleotide and peptide scaffolds or their hybrids with other materials like synthetic polymers since these materials optimally allow the design of nano-objects with respect to size, shape and functionality.
Starting out from such materials, the efforts and mission of the program can be summarized as follows:

  1. Fabrication of multifunctional drug carrier and coating systems exhibiting nanometer-sized dimensions or features.
  2. Delivery of biologicals such as nucleic acids and proteins as well as highly potent synthetic drugs or new chemical entities for therapeutic application.
  3. Development of new in vitro and in vivo methods to investigate and prove the efficacy of (targeted) drug delivery systems with an emphasis on spatial resolution in the nanometer regime.
Description of the Programme  

Nanotechnology is defined as the intentional design, characterization, production, and applications of materials, structures, devices, and systems by controlling their size and shape in the nanoscale range (1-100 nm). This new field of science and the associated applications has undergone explosive growth in the last 10-15 years, during which nanobiotechnology has become one of the largest promises. 
To actualize this promise we selected two indications as a test bed to exemplify the power of nanomaterials for combating diseases. On the one hand it was decided to concentrate on indications in ophthalmology. The eye is a well separated organ and due to its less active immune system it is a promising site to test new biomacromolecule-based carrier systems. Moreover, the road towards clinical testing for ophthalmic indications is less demanding than for disorders of other organs and as a result allows faster entry into clinical trials. Eye-related diseases are usually cured by local treatment with eye drops or intraocular injections. Diseases regarding the anterior sections of the eye like infections of the cornea or the conjunctiva can nowadays only be treated with the very frequent application of highly concentrated antibiotic eye drops. The reason is that only 1% of the drug remains at the eye while 99% of the pharmaceutically active ingredient is washed away by tear flow and eyelid movement. The high drug concentrations can lead to local side effects up to anaphylactic shocks in extreme cases when the drug gets in contact with nasal mucosa and oral cavity. It is planned to fabricate nanocarrier systems that adhere to the surface of the eye and due to their longevity and controlled drug release much lower drug concentrations can be used in in these applications.
Most intraocular tissues are not reached by surface applied therapies and therefore require intraocular injections. These represent surgical interventions with the known risks associated to them. Within this program we will develop novel nano-depot systems that release drugs against diseases of the posterior of the eye over long periods of time. Such controlled delivery systems lower the treatment frequency and hence minimize the amount of injections and lowering the overall needed dosage.

The second indication we are planning to tackle is cancer. Several efforts within this program are directed towards developing novel carriers for the delivery of anticancer drugs. The nanomaterials are designed to target tumors in vivo and when introduced into the blood stream it leads to accumulation of the drug in the tumour tissue. In the future cancer patients might strongly benefit from the advanced therapeutic materials developed in this program because appropriate ways of surface functionalization of the carrier increases their half-life in the blood circulation, prevent opsonising proteins from adhering and reduce rapid metabolism and clearance. Moreover, adverse side effects are minimized by preventing nonspecific uptake of toxic therapeutic agents into healthy tissue.

Due to the complexity of cancer treatment and the many forms of this disease we plan to assess the potential of several carrier systems against various tumours but entering clinical trials is a long term goal and out of the scope of this program. In contrast, for the application of nanocarriers in the context of ophthalmic indications clinical trials are in reach within the time frame of this undertaken.

Relevance to Healthy Ageing  

Our programme will impact the healthy ageing initiative in several ways. In regard to ophthalmic applications the involvement of new carrier systems adhering to the cornea will allow much less frequent application of eye drops. This will drastically increase the compliance, which is especially important for elderly patients who follow the advice of doctors less correctly. Therefore therapy of this age group will be improved with new nano-sized carriers. Additionally, it is planned to develop new therapies for treatment of diseases of the retina like age related macular degeneration (AMD). This disease is almost exclusively found in patients of old age and with the help of nanoparticle based depot formulations intravitreal injections will be necessary at lower frequencies. 
Cancer is the leading cause of death in economically developed countries and its global burden is expected to increase one reason being an aging population. The newly developed nanocarriers are aiming towards fighting this trend.

Principal Investigators