The unique physical characteristics of nanomaterials promote their application in a wide range of fields. Our research interests are multi-stranded, with the different facets described below. In the group, we use Inorganic Chemistry tools for the design and development of nanostructured devices to understand and solve current healthcare challenges, overcome obstacles in important industrial processes and assess the fate of nanomaterials in the environment. The research is highly interdisciplinary, ranging from inorganic particle preparation to physical analytical techniques and biological techniques allowing assessment of important cellular interaction behaviour. The research group collaborates with Physics, Engineering, Life Sciences and Medical Sciences, as well as clinicians. We receive funding from a variety of sources to support our research.
Key areas of ongoing research include:
Nanostructured Medical Imaging Agents
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a powerful non-invasive technique in medical research which becomes considerably more potent when magnetic contrast agents (CAs) are applied. Current clinically-approved molecular CAs suffer from poor signal-to-noise, necessitating high dosages, leading to patient safety concerns. CAs based on nanomaterials have unparalleled capabilities to enhance this vital tool, due to their unique size and colloidal behaviour, with some already in clinical use. One part of our research investigates the crucial role that structural design plays in influencing the behaviour of these important imaging tools.
Early detection and diagnosis of disease is vital for reducing the burden of illness from both a humane and economic perspective. The necessity for new devices for medical diagnostics with enhanced sensitivity and patient safety are therefore a high priority in medicine. The second strand of this research aims to use nanotechnology to diagnose emerging diseases at their early stages through the design and development of nanomaterials as responsive MRI agents, which can accurately identify the presence of illness through this non-invasive technique. Chemistry, physical analysis techniques and biological approaches are used to provide a complete understanding of these materials towards their realistic application as new biomedical tools.
Within these strands of research, we investigate both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ nanoparticle-based contrast agents and their development into stimuli responsive contrast agents. We futher probe the interaction and behaviour of these species with cell lines.
This research is funded by the Royal Society.
Targeted Drug Delivery Vehicles
In combination with the development of responsive MRI contrast agents, we also aim to prepare nanomaterials and nanocomposites as all-in-one medical diagnostic and therapeutic devices: ‘theranostics’. The provision of targeted stimuli-responsive therapeutic delivery vehicles represents an important new medical tool. We are interested in the preparation of high-payload nanomaterials using well-defined nanostructure architectures. We also aim to identify and apply panels of disease recognition biomarkers which can be used to target the precisely engineered nanostructured imaging agents. The efficiency and efficacy of such targeted drug delivery systems to appropriate cells lines is also being assessed.
Figure. Artistic representation of targeted drug delivery from mesoporous nanoparticles.
This research is funded by a Cancer Research UK Innovation Grant, in collaboration with a team of academics and clinicians.
Engineering Functional Nanoconstructs
Magnetic nanoparticles are widespread in research and industrial applications and have been used in catalysis as well as for magnetic targeting and imaging in medical fields. Their unique magnetic properties mean that they can be removed with relative ease from suspensions using a permanent or variable magnetic field, a property which has been exploited to enhance recovery and recyclability of catalysts and as a route to understanding complex biological systems. In this strand of our research, magnetic nanoparticles are used as a key functional tool. Through their surface modification, they are being investigated as a means of triggering chemical reactions, for example important industrially-relevant polymerisations. The propensity of magnetic particles for magnetic manipulation is also being investigated as means of enhancing catalytic reactions, in collaboration with the School of Engineering (Prof. Evgeny Rebrov). Magnetic particles are additionally being developed for use specific biological applications (with Profs. Andrew McAinsh and Robert Cross, Warwick Medical School).
Environmental Impact of Nanomaterials
The resilient nature of nanomaterials, their high surface areas and surfaces which lend themselves to functionalisation with different moieties has made them popular in a variety of commercial products, ranging from food additives and cosmetics to catalysts. These products are often rapidly disposed of and end up as waste products, commonly ending their life cycle in ground waters, rivers and the ocean. Their transformation, impact and eventual fate in such environments, however, is currently unknown. This new strand of our research aims to address this challenge, through the investigation of the physicochemical properties of key nanomaterials commonly disposed of from consumer products and industry over time in different aqueous environments.