Nanotechnology and biophysics are highly interdisciplinary research areas with applications in many different fields, including medicine. The University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), for instance, uses these advanced technologies for targeted treatment delivery, while adequately interacting with the targeted tissue cells.

The researchers use nanotechnology and biophysical tools and materials to develop powerful systems that interact with cells and tissues, for drug carrier systems, implants, and sensors. The researchers also study their mechanisms of action. Structures are generated based on dimensions in the nanoscale regime and are composed of various biological or synthetic building blocks, or a combination of these, while controlling the physical interactions between materials and cells.

To design nano-objects tailored to specific demands regarding size, shape, physicochemical properties, and functionality, the researchers use a multidisciplinary approach, combining chemistry, physics, biology, pharmacology, materials science, medicine, and engineering.

Relevance

Providing the right treatment, at the right time, at the right place

This research programme is aimed at providing the right treatment, at the right time, at the right place. The research focuses on drug delivery strategies for the treatment of many acute and chronic diseases. However, physicochemical stimulation of cells may have the same results as pharmaceutical intervention. The more basic application of material interactions with tissues and cells provides an additional treatment dimension, allowing it to work synergistically with pharmaceutical stimulations. The combination of pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical approaches allows for optimal therapeutic effect and minimal side-effects.

The research activities include:

  • Fabricating multifunctional nanostructures to facilitate targeted delivery, imaging, and novel therapies;
  • Gaining insight into the biophysical principles underlying the interactions between microenvironment and behaviour of biological systems, including the human body;
  • Investigating the key parameters involved in the interaction between nanomaterials and biological systems;
  • Studying the delivery of highly potent pharmaceutical components of synthetic and biological origin for therapeutic purposes;
  • Providing non-pharmaceutical solutions to cell-based problems based on physicochemical and biophysical approaches.
  • In order for pharmacological treatments to be effective, the drug involved needs to be delivered in a targeted and timely manner, while keeping its activity. Nanocarriers can be used to protect drugs against degradation and promote accumulation at the target site following systemic administration.

    To ensure that the carriers are able to reach the targeted site, the researchers fine-tune their properties. For instance, nanocarriers can be modified with target-recognition peptides or sequences. However, the translocation of these carriers across cellular membranes and biological barriers while being transported from the bloodstream to the actual target tissue poses major challenges.

    The researchers study the interaction between nanocarriers and biological systems, including cellular uptake mechanisms that can be modified by biochemical stimulation as well as physical material properties. Such combined manipulations of cellular processes will optimize the drug delivery process of nanocarriers and lead to paradigm shifts in conventional medical therapies.