Portrait of Professor Shirley Wu

New funding will help Wu team develop nanotechnology for translation to clinic

Shirley Wu, Professor in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, has received a U of T Connaught Innovation Award to support her team’s work to develop an innovative nanotechnology-based platform for central nervous system diseases. The one-year, $50,000 grant provides critical funding to bridge the gap between discovery research and commercialization.

“Financial support to move this research forward is critical. There’s very little external funding for this type of work, so this internal funding is pivotal to move forward,” says Wu.

“You need a bridge like this to move from discovery to commercialization, and we appreciate this opportunity very much.”

Wu’s research focuses on drug delivery and pharmaceutical nanotechnology. Her team recently developed an innovative nanoparticulate system that can cross the blood-brain barrier — a protective structure in the brain — to deliver drugs or imaging agents.

Many drugs and imaging agents are unable to cross this barrier, making them ineffective for detecting and treating central nervous system diseases. But Wu’s team has demonstrated that their new system, which uses materials already approved for pharmaceutical use, is able to cross the barrier and target areas of the brain with high concentrations of reactive oxygen species, often found in damaged brain tissue.

The team has successfully used this platform to deliver drugs and imaging agents in animal models of breast cancer brain metastasis and primary brain tumours (for example, glioblastoma multiforme), as well as to deliver an imaging agent for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease.

But the technology is particularly exciting, especially from a commercialization perspective, because it serves as a platform that can be loaded with different agents to image or treat different central nervous diseases.

“We want to move forward and develop the technology for various applications, but the manufacturing process is the main bottleneck right now,” says Wu. “The Connaught Innovation Award will help us to overcome some of the barriers and prepare for commercialization.”

Wu has been working closely with the U of T Innovations and Partnership Office to help commercialize the platform, particularly Marilee Krinsky, Manager for life sciences, and her team in Innovations and Entrepreneurship. Award applications are peer reviewed by internal and external experts in academics, business and technology.

“These awards are peer reviewed by internal and external experts in business, technology and academics,” says Krinsky. “This award is broad recognition that this is a valuable technology with significant merit for translation, and that Wu’s research program is worth investing in and supporting.”

The Connaught Innovation Award is highly competitive, awarding only 10 researchers from across the university this year. This is Wu’s third, highlighting her and her team’s commitment to translating their discoveries to the clinic.

“All of my team members have a common goal of bringing our research discoveries from the bench to bedside to fulfill unmet medical needs,” Wu says.

By: Eileen Hoftyzer

More News

Faces of PharmSci: Celene Titus

PhD student Celene Titus is working in the field of HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Impairments (NCI) and brain inflammation to improve HIV patients' quality of life and deepen our understanding of brain inflammation in HIV infection.
Read More