Feature in leading pharmaceutical technology journal

Research from academics in the Schools of Pharmacy and Life Sciences is the focus of a feature in Innovations in Pharmaceutical Technology.

​Dr Enrico Ferrari from the School of Life Sciences, who specialises in assembling proteins, and Dr Ishwar Singh from the School of Pharmacy, who has expertise on DNA-binding molecules, are part of an international project which aims to drastically improve cancer diagnostics and treatment options.

They will be creating a diagnostic ‘nanodecoder’, which will consist of self-assembled DNA and protein nanostructures, which will greatly advance biomarker detection and provide accurate molecular characterisation enabling more detailed evaluation of how diseased tissues respond to therapies.

Dr Singh and Dr Driton Vllasaliu are also carrying out research into how medicinal ‘biologics’ can be delivered to diseased cells​, with the aim of creating new treatments for prostate cancer, Multiple Sclerosis and cystic fibrosis.

Read the feature in Innovations in Pharmaceutical Technology.

The article is taken from Innovations in Pharmaceutical Technology, March 2015 issue, pages 52-54. © Samedan Ltd​

‘Designer’ nanodevice could improve cancer treatments

Cancer diagnostics and treatment options could be drastically improved with the creation of a ‘designer’ nanodevice being developed by researchers from the UK, Italy, the US and Argentina.

The diagnostic ‘nanodecoder’, which will consist of self-assembled DNA and protein nanostructures, will greatly advance biomarker detection and provide accurate molecular characterisation enabling more detailed evaluation of how diseased tissues respond to therapies. A biomarker, or biological marker, refers to a measurable indicator of some biological state or condition. One example of a commonly used biomarker in medicine is prostate-specific antigen (PSA). This marker can be measured as a proxy of prostate size with rapid changes potentially indicating cancer.

The four-year ‘Immuno-NanoDecoder’ project involves lead partner University of Rome Tor Vergata, Italy; together with University of Lincoln, UK; Hospital of Udine, Italy; Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and University of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The project’s long-term goal is to develop a molecular nanodevice for imaging of biomarkers in tissue samples and cells. It will initially help to accurately characterise skin cancers and glycogenosis type II (where the body cannot get rid of glycogen from the muscles), being especially useful to assess in vitro the effectiveness of experimental therapies.

It is funded with a 441,000 Euro grant from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) programme.

The University of Lincoln team will be responsible for engineering and synthesising a key component of the nanodevice: a two way molecular connector to bind the protein part to the DNA scaffold.

Lincoln’s involvement will be led by Dr Enrico Ferrari from the School of Life Sciences, who specialises in assembling proteins, and Dr Ishwar Singh from the School of Pharmacy, who has expertise on DNA-binding molecules, have a number of hybrid molecular devices in mind.

Dr Ferrari, whose previous research led to the creation of a new bio-therapeutic molecule that could be used to treat neurological disorders, said: “Once a cancer has been diagnosed the next stage is to try various treatment methods, but it is often difficult to understand the specific effect of treatment. This nanodecoder is the perfect tool to be able to both diagnose cancer accurately and record therapeutic effects.

“Our hybrid nanodevice is an artificial device made out of DNA and protein. Molecules arranged in a very specific way can perform a function – this is what we are trying to achieve, in an artificial way. It’s like DNA origami; it’s possible to engineer different shaped molecules but we want to engineer molecules that also have a function. After this project, we will be in a position to claim we have a very well defined expertise to make hybrid molecular devices.”

Research will take place in the Peptide Suite within the University of Lincoln’s new state-of-the-art Joseph Banks Laboratories. The Suite was created following funding from The Royal Society and the University’s Research Investment Fund.

Using a high-resolution method called Atomic Force Microscopy the team will be able to look closely at the assembled nanodevice.

Dr Singh, whose research specialisms include antimicrobials, ‘biologics’ and DNA diagnostics, said: “Each nanodevice will be coupled to a specific molecular probe, such as an antibody, peptide, or protein that uniquely recognise disease biomarkers. The coupling will allow the nanodecoder to detect biomarker presence and distribution in cells and tissues using optical fluorescence microscopy – in other words making them shine. Different biomarkers can indicate whether the disease is in remission or where it may have spread. From this set of markers doctors can understand what the next step in the treatment process should be. The number of biomarkers that can be detected will be essentially unlimited and therefore the nanodecoder could serve as a platform to diagnose other cancers and diseases. This project is an excellent vehicle to test our molecular tools and understand the potential of our first hybrid device.”

The nanodecoder, once created, will be trialled at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina and at the Hospital of Udine, Italy. Complementary research programs, ranging from nanotechnology to molecular medicine and pathology, will support the project.

National award for outstanding Biomedical student

A student who took more than a 20-year break from education was chosen out of 25,000 Access Learners to win an award celebrating outstanding academic achievement.

Zoe Harris, from North Hykeham, has been awarded a Keith Fletcher Memorial National Access Prize for Outstanding Academic Achievement.

Now a Biomedical Science student at the University of Lincoln, UK, Zoe had very little background in science when she embarked on the Access to HE course at Grantham College.

She excelled in her studies, showing complete devotion and commitment and was an inspiration to others on the course.

Zoe provided the best exam paper seen by course leaders at the college and undertook an additional ‘self-taught’ unit.

Zoe said: “Grantham College gave me a great start and I am thoroughly enjoying my studies here at the University of Lincoln. It just goes to show it’s never too late to further your education.”

The Keith Fletcher Memorial National Access Prize is an annual event held across England and Wales in memory of Mr Fletcher, who worked tirelessly to promote access to higher education.

This year’s winners were invited to a presentation at the House of Commons, hosted by Nic Dakin, MP.

Each of the successful candidates received a certificate and cheque to help them with their future study.

Zoe was nominated by Jane Brunt, from Grantham College, who said: “The staff team that taught Zoe are immensely proud of her achievements. She has helped other students who have struggled and demonstrated true patience and kindness towards those who needed help.”

Zoe is now in her first year of a Biomedical Science BSc at the University of Lincoln.

Dr Humberto Gutierrez, senior lecturer in the School of Life Sciences, said: “As her personal tutor I am not surprised that Zoe has been given this recognition. She is an extraordinarily dedicated, enthusiastic and committed student. She deserves this and more.”

Café Scientifique – The Hand: Function and Dysfunction

The next event in the Café Scientifique calendar will see the first external guest speaker give an interactive talk on all aspects of hand function.

Mr Indranil Chakrabarti, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Rotherham NHS Foundation, will discuss what makes the human hand so unique, with an emphasis on anatomy, some common disorders and treatments-including joint replacement.

Mr Chakrabarti’s experience in orthopaedic surgery has placed him as one of the most skilled hand surgeons in the country, and he is often asked to lecture across the globe.

Café Scientifique Lincoln was set up by three University of Lincoln Biomedical students to bring together individuals from across Lincoln and Lincolnshire with an interest and passion for science. It is a unique opportunity to interact and talk with leading researchers and physicians.

The talk will take place at 7.30pm on Tuesday, 18th March in the Conference Room, DoubleTree by Hilton, Lincoln.

This event is funded by the University of Lincoln and is free for all students, faculty and members of the public. Refreshments will be available.

Medical Society holds research symposium

Life Sciences students presented a number of research projects at a recent symposium held by the University of Lincoln’s Medical Society.

Presentations included a review of a specific therapy used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, medical work placement opportunities and delivery of biotherapeutics.

Particular highlights of the presentations included Biomedical Science student Stephen Wade’s detailed descriptions of how peptide-guided drug uptake studies on an immortalised cell line could be performed using green fluorescent protein (GFP) as a mock drug and tracer.

Fellow Biomedical Science student Erik Marzaganov gave an array of useful tips to those seeking medical work-experience prior to studying post-graduate medicine, based on his own extensive experience. He encouraged students to broaden their scope beyond the UK, having himself gained work experience in Mexico, Russia and Germany.

Following the presentations Dr Alan Goddard and Dr Lorna Lancaster, from the School of Life Sciences, offered advice to those students wishing to gain a place on summer research projects.

Barnaby Meek, Vice President of the Medical Society and Life Sciences undergraduate, said: The idea was to capitalise on the research projects that were made available to undergraduate students here at Lincoln by providing the opportunity for students to present their work to peers. This was an event that was conceived with the principles of ‘Student as Producer’ in mind: it was organised by undergraduates for the benefit of undergraduates.

“The evening was well-attended and highly successful thanks to the combined efforts of the whole committee and the confident chairing of the night by MedSoc President Sophia Smyth. Hopefully, the evening was able to prepare some of the first and second year students wishing to gain similar research projects in their summer breaks and give them an insight into the kind of research opportunities available to them.”