Development of Light-responsive Biocompatible Nanovesicles

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Chemistry


The aim of this project is to develop a route to self-assemble novel hybrid polymeric/metallic nanovesicles for healthcare applications. The basis for our design will be constituted by polymersomes, i.e. nanometre-sized compartments formed by the self-assembly of amphiphilic block copolymers in water; polymerosomes in fact have attracted great research interest in recent years due to their ability to encapsulate molecules within their interior and to release them in the external environment in a controlled manner. In this project, we will seek to include gold nanoparticles with plasmonic properties in the design of the double-membrane defining the vesicles. Because of these plasmonic inclusions, the vesicles will be able to absorb light in the visible and near-infrared range (the specific resonant wavelength will be determined by the number of inclusions), thus allowing to either convert light into localized heat or into acoustic vibrational modes for the vesicles. Because of their hybrid nature, these nanovesicles will then have desirable properties, namely biocompatibility due to their polymeric nature and light-responsiveness due to their metallic inclusions. We will then proceed to characterize their optical properties and develop first proof-of-principle applications in drug-delivery.
Bestowing vesicles with light-responsiveness will enable us to control via light activation the localisation, pick-up and deliver of nanoscopic cargoes such as drugs, biomarkers or contrast agents. As such, we envisaged that our devices will allow us to develop novel drug-delivery agents, physiological sensors, probes for the localized delivery of heat as well as photoacoustic agents for bioimaging. This project's theme is aligned with two of the CDT's currently under development in the department (that on light/molecules interactions and that on materials chemistry) as well as the CDT proposal in Physics of Living Systems lead by UCL Physics and of which Chemistry is a major partner. Although this project is very fundamental in nature, the PI has considerable experience in translating fundamental research into application with several collaborations with industry and a recently spin-off company (SomaNautix ltd).
This project builds on the PI expertise in soft matter chemistry and on the Co-I expertise in photonics and plasmonics. On the one hand, the PI will be able to lever on the Co-I expertise to bestow his established polymersomes with light-responsiveness and most importantly photonic properties trough embedding plasmonic particles in the vesicle design. On the other hand, this collaboration will allow the Co-I to extend his knowledge in photonic to the biomedical and biological physics, thus opening a new research line for his group. As this project is a real collaborative effort, we expect the student to spend 50% of their time in each group. In particular, the fabrication of the vesicles will take place in the PI's laboratory, while the characterization of the optical properties of the hybrid vesicles will take place in the Co-I's laboratory.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509577/1 01/10/2016 24/03/2022
2088211 Studentship EP/N509577/1 24/09/2018 22/03/2022 Valentino Barbieri
Description The first objective of the project involving the fabrication and characterisation of the basic units of our system - hybrid polymeric/metallic nanovesicles - was successfully achieved.
Exploitation Route The biocompatible plasmonic hybrid vesicles can be relevant in a variety of fields: as drug delivery systems and photothermal therapeutic agents in nanomedicine, as nanoreactors in biotechnology and for environmental applications, and as plasmonic probes in optical sensing of pollutants and chemical warfare agents.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Chemicals,Environment,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description Video for the Global Young Scientist Summit (GYSS) 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I was asked to prepare a short video introducing the project for the Global Young Scientist Summit 2021. It was uploaded on an online platform, where it was accessible to the over 100 participants (including some Nobel Laureates) for the duration of the summit. This generated interest amongst some other early-career colleagues who wanted to learn more about the topic and suggested potential future collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021