The BEL is currently working in three areas:
1. Translational Bio-friendly Materials
Biomaterials that can be introduced into the human body hold great potential to diagnose and treat disease. For such applications, it is important that the materials be harmlessly eliminated from the body in a reasonable period of time after they carry out their diagnostic or therapeutic functions. For example, despite efforts to improve their targeting efficiency, significant quantities of systemically administered nanomaterials are cleared by the mononuclear phagocytic system before finding their targets, increasing the likelihood of unintended acute or chronic toxicity. However, there has been little effort to engineer the self-destruction of errant biomaterials into non-toxic, systemically eliminated products. In the BEL, we are developing clinically relevant biosafe materials that can perform their unique biological functions without any toxicity concerns.
2. Artificial Targeting Agents
The targeting efficacy of many imaging agents and anti-cancer drugs is limited by their poor binding to target tissues and by their adverse effects on healthy cells, which limits their doses that can be safely administered to cancer patients. The BEL screens libraries of random peptides to identify those that bind to specific disease. The peptides in the library are displayed on the surface of phage (a virus that infects bacteria), and the screening is done in vivo. When the library is injected into the circulation of a mouse, phage particles that display peptides capable of binding to a selected target tissue, such as a tumor, accumulate at the target where they can be collected and their peptide identified. By using the phase display technique, we are looking for tissue-specific peptides to increase targeting efficacy of diagnostic and therapeutic agents while reducing their side effects.
3. Systems Nanotechnology
Over the past decade, widespread progress in nanotechnology has produced an impressive array of nanodevices with powerful electromagnetic and therapeutic properties. Nonetheless, our capacity to precisely home these targets in vivo has remained very limited and, despite three decades of research, ligand-targeted nanomedicines have yet to provide a benefit to patients. A fundamental limitation of current approaches to nanoparticle targeting is that they lack mechanisms of communication and amplification through which specific targeting events could assist the targeting of nanomaterials still in circulation. In the BEL, inspired by examples of communication in natural targeting systems, we are constructing a ‘nanosystem’ where multi-component, interactive nanomaterial systems are engineered to improve the sensing and treatment of diseases in vivo.