Tiny delivery system for biomedicine


- Dorothy Eggenberger

Manners. Credit: UVic Photo Services

Imagine a tiny delivery truck that could carry therapeutic cargo directly to a tumour cell. University of Victoria materials scientist and Canada 150 Chair Ian Manners and his research group are aiming to build these tiny structures: special nanoparticles that are able to navigate the bloodstream, targeting cell receptors that are characteristic for tumour cells—and deliver anticancer agents.

This is a vital area in health research and application, says Manners, because the most common cancer treatments outside surgery are chemotherapy and radiation: effective, but invasive with high risks of side effects. Another treatment option may be just around the corner with exciting developments in biomedicine.

Cancer remains the leading cause of death in Canada, with an estimated 229,200 Canadians diagnosed in 2021—84,600 of which were terminal cases.

Manners is exploring the potential application of nanoparticles, particles with a size 1,000 times less than the width of a human hair. The Manners Research Group has investigated this area for more than 20 years. Over this period, they discovered and then developed crystallization-driven self-assembly (CDSA) into a powerful new method for creating nanoparticles with well-defined shapes and controlled size. CDSA is now used by a growing number of scientists worldwide.

Since relocating to UVic in 2018, Manners’ research group has explored how best to use CDSA for applications of global importance including health. 

Using CDSA we can attach functional groups to nanoparticles that permit tracking and targeting as well as other properties," says Manners. 

Manners’ team has recently set out to create a new delivery system for cancer treatment. Similar to planning a mail delivery, the team had to create a vehicle equipped to carry the anticancer agent, a navigation system to reach the correct cell and a mechanism to ensure the package is received—like postal boxes in a condo building.  

One of the most well-studied active targeting agents is folic acid (FA), with several FA conjugates in clinical trials. FA will target folate receptors, which are overexpressed in numerous types of cancer cells, and have represented a significant target for the delivery of tailored therapeutics. Manners Group found that nanofibers armed with FA were absorbed by the target cells within 30 minutes, whereas their counterparts without FA were not able to enter cells.

Manners leads a team of 22 coworkers at his research lab that focuses on advanced materials. They are also working on a range of other projects. “Using CDSA we can prepare nanofibers that absorb sunlight and funnel energy to a site where useful chemical processes can be performed, such as splitting water to provide hydrogen gas,” says Manners.

“This is a carbon-neutral fuel, an alternative to fossil fuels which are the major cause of climate change.” 

Other projects target new polymers that are able to “self-heal” and repair themselves when damaged, and also materials that are able to generate high-resolution patterns on silicon chips for applications in new generations of computers.

Manners' research is supported by the BC provincial and federal governments, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Mitacs and Intel.


Larger than an atom and smaller than a fine particle, nanoparticles range between one and 100 nanometres. Because of their small size, nanoparticles have a very large surface area to volume ratio when compared to bulk material—like powders, plate and sheet—and so possess unexpected optical, physical and chemical properties.

The Manners Group is interested in the synthesis and applications on length scales from one nanometre to 100 microns. Their focus is the development of new synthetic approaches to functional molecules, polymers and materials.

Their diverse and international group typically operates at a level of around 20 members, including mainly postdoctoral researchers and graduate students, but also permanent staff, undergraduates and visiting scientists. The group currently employs the largest number of postdoctoral researchers of any UVic lab.

Since relocating to UVic in 2018, the Manners group has published around 85 articles in venues that include prestigious Science and Nature journals. Their research has been cited over 12,000 times in the last four years alone.

“Having exceptionally talented, motivated and ambitious group members ensures that I always have many draft manuscripts containing exciting science to work on,” says Manners. 

Former group members have found positions in industry and government labs, as well as in teaching and as patent lawyers. Well over 50 now hold professorial academic positions worldwide in Canada, the US, Europe, Asia, Africa and New Zealand.


In this story

Keywords: community, international, research, cancer, health, disease

People: Ian Manners

Publication: knowlEDGE

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