"True navigation begins in the human heart. It's the most important map of all"
-E. Kapu’uwailani Lindsey
-E. Kapu’uwailani Lindsey
The main driving force of our research is given by addressing a specific clinical problem and we collaborate with several clinicians integrating effective therapies and/or diagnosis with our nanotechnological tools. The common motif in all these projects is to address the specific challenge adapting the appropriate engineering and physical tool to it. Most our effort goes into the design of nanoscopic carriers that deliver therapeutic agents and/or diagnostic probes to a specific part of the body. Accessing our body is not a trivial task and in order to reach the desired part, the carrier has to "navigate the body" and we called this appropriately Somanautics (from Greek: Sôma: Body -and Nautikos -navigation). The biological environment where the somanaut has to go through is the result of a hierarchical and complex organisation of molecules, into macromolecules into supramolecular structures, into living cells, into tissues, into organs (see figure above). Such a complexity requires a systematic approach and we are engaging this both at each level as well as holistically to understand the different aspects required for efficient navigation. At the molecular level, we aim to design systems that have limited interaction with soluble proteins so to prevent unspecific protein fouling and opsonisation. At the cellular level , we study the interaction between synthetic materials and cells (see endocytosis) and one of our most important findings in the last years has been the development of pH-sensitive polymersomes able to deliver almost any molecules and macromolecules within any eukaryotic cell that exhibits endocytosis with minimal toxicity associated. At the tissue level, we have discovered that effective transport can be achieved by controlling the carrier mechanical properties and its ability to "squeeze" through the narrow paracellular space combining effective translocation with size-exclusion percolation. At the physiological level, we are studying how synthetic carrier interacts with the immune system, move in and out of the vasculature, access specific organs etc. To this respect, we are now investigating new ways to control cellular selectivity and moreover to follow endogenous chemical signalling using chemotaxis. The resulting solutions are then quickly applied to the specific clinical settings where the carrier is combined with therapy. We are now working on three different clinical areas: NanoNeurology, Nanooncology, and NanoImmunology.