The Colloids & Biological Interface Group at DTU Nanotech
Chemical biology at nanoscale is a research field in a fascinating development. Nanomaterials are being investigated in connection to multiple new technologies within the fields of drug delivery, diagnostics and biosensors. Biocompatible nanoparticle systems are of particular interest in all these areas. In the drug delivery field, nanoparticles can target diseased tissue through surface functionalization with targeting moieties such as antibodies and peptides. Through this targeting the nanoparticles can carry encapsuated drugs to the diseased tissue and release the payload specifically in the tissue. By similar design, nanoparticles can be used to home tumor tissue allowing utilization as diagnostic markers for visualizing and diagnosing cancer.
Nanoparticle systems also provides new possibilities for diagnosing diseases from blood samples. By coupling antibodies to the surface of nanoparticles it is possible to measure the presence of antigens that are markers for disease, with much higher sensitivity utilizing a number of measuring techniques. Furthermore, nanoparticles have been utilized as sensors for measuring metabolites and pH in tissue, cells and specific cellular compartments.
The CBIO group is focused on nanoparticle design, synthesis, biophysical characterization and biological evaluation within the above mentioned technological areas. However, the focus is on the fundamental properties of these systems from a basic research perspective. Thousands of articles and patents have been published in these areas in recent years showing the great potential of such systems. Even so, there is a fundamental challenge that is not being addressed to the necessary extend, being the basic biological interactions with the artificial nanomaterials. E.g. drug delivery systems are being designed with high complexity where enzymes are activating the drug delivery carrier for drug release specifically at the active site. Before the nanoparticle accumulates at the diseased target site, it has to circulate in the blood stream for hours.
This will most likely change the properties of the carrier completely due to protein adsorption, possibly resulting in a carrier that is insensitive to the enzyme that it was designed for. The understanding of how nanomaterials are altered by the biological mileau is completely neglected and needs to be addressed by material technologists and biologists if the highly intelligent designs we are envisaging and engineering are to be successful.
This is the main focus of the CBIO group, where synthetic chemists, biophysical chemists and cell biologists are working together to understand how highly engineered nanosystems are interacting with the biology milieu at protein, organelle and single cell level. One example is the design of nanoparticle based sensors for measuring pH in intracellular compartments. To make successful designs we investigate the basic properties, such as stability, inertness and toxicity to find materials that are optimal for nanosensor technologies. We further investigate how surface functionalization impacts the internalization by cells and even utilize the sensors to investigate how other nanomaterials are effecting cellular behavior. Furthermore, through collaborations with world leading scientists we push the engineered systems into studies in animal models making new tools for in vivo imaging of cancer and drug delivery systems with improved efficacy compared to the free drug.