Cross-country research partnership seeks to improve drug delivery

Science

- Jody Paterson

Chemistry researcher Matthew Moffitt uses microfluidic chips like this one to prepare nano-particles for application in drug delivery. Credit: UVic Photo Services

Four Canadian universities. Eight researchers. One goal: improve the way therapeutic drugs are delivered in the human body while diversifying the skillset of a new generation of researchers to build on that work in the academic and private sectors.

The University of Victoria’s Department of Chemistry is leading a collaborative of universities in BC, Ontario and Quebec in a six-year project to deepen research knowledge and train skilled personnel in the area of drug delivery. The Polymer Nanoparticles for Drug Delivery (PoND) project is funded through a $1.65 million grant from the CREATE program, an initiative of Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

Targeted drug delivery

The emerging science of drug delivery has caught the attention of the biomedical tech sector looking for new ways to treat diseases such as cancer. Methods to deliver chemotherapy drugs more precisely to a cancerous tumour, for instance, would spare patients many of the debilitating side-effects of more generalized treatment.

“All of the researchers participating in the collaborative have an interest in drug delivery, but it’s a broad perspective,” says chemist Matthew Moffitt, PoND project leader. “This grant brings those perspectives together—physics, biology, chemistry, pharmaceutical medicine—and gives rise to something new and interesting.

“As scientists working in different aspects of drug delivery, we can collaborate in our work and give students at the graduate level a broad exposure to different disciplines. It’s broad-based training that makes our students very appealing to industry.”

Reducing side effects

Moffitt is a polymer materials scientist. The work led him into drug delivery systems as he explored the use of polymer nanoparticles as mechanisms for delivering drugs in a more precise and effective way.

While a nanoparticle is extremely small, it’s bigger than the molecules that make up the human body. A chemotherapy drug delivered in a polymer nanoparticle is able to pass into the large-pored blood vessels near a cancer site, but can’t enter healthy tissue.

That holds potential for dramatically reducing the many side-effects of chemotherapy, and concentrating the drugs where they are most needed.

Chemotherapy drugs are indiscriminately toxic, killing everything. In a drug-delivery formulation, we try to put that drug inside a polymer nanoparticle so the drug goes directly to the tumour.
Matthew Moffitt, UVic chemist

Research on four fronts

Current research into drug delivery systems focuses on engineered technologies on four fronts: routes of delivery, delivery vehicles, cargo, and targeting strategies.

Moffitt’s research fits in the delivery vehicle category. Other researchers in the collaborative are studying how drugs enter and move through the system (routes of delivery), new kinds of drugs (cargo), and the development of drugs able to target and attach themselves to diseased tissue (targeted strategies).

CREATE funding for the research collaboration supports researchers at UVic, Quebec’s Laval and Concordia universities, and the University of Toronto. With a focus on training, the grant aims to develop a multi-disciplinary team that helps students hone not only their research skills, but the entrepreneurial and collaborative skills vital for working in the biomedical tech industry or starting their own businesses.

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Keywords: chemistry, astronomy, technology, cancer, NSERC, collaboration, training grants, industry, drug delivery

People: Matthew Moffitt, Kim Venn, Sun Kly


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