Skip to Content

Functional polymers and nanocarriers

.

Our group seeks to exploit the latest polymerisation, bioconjugation and self-assembly strategies to synthesise novel functional polymers and nanocarriers that can address unmet medical needs. We focus on techniques that can control all physicochemical properties of polymers (molecular weight, dispersity, sequence, architecture) and nanoparticles (size, shape, surface). Such techniques allow us to tailor polymers and nanocarriers for diverse biomedical applications. We are particularly interested in smart polymers and stimuli-responsive nanoparticles that can escape cell endosomes and release medicines upon exposure to triggers (triggered release) or after a certain time (timed release). Furthermore, we design, synthesise and test new alternatives to polyethylene glycol (PEG) for overcoming the PEG immunogenicity (accelerated blood clearance) issue in drug delivery and bioconjugation. In addition to polymers, our group also develops novel lipid, inorganic and other hybrid nanoparticles. The surface of these nanoparticles can be conjugated with proteins, antibodies, and single-chain variable fragments (scFvs). Our aim is to continuously expand our toolbox of functional polymers and nanocarriers for application to many urgent needs in biomedical applications.


Vaccines

.

Our group also aims to develop the next generation of safer, cheaper, higher efficiency and more stable vaccines (mRNA, DNA and subunit vaccines) to combat pandemics and seasonal outbreaks. The focus here is to significantly improve (i) the targeted delivery of nucleic acids to immune cells in secondary lymphatic organs, (ii) the transfection efficiency of nucleic acids, and (iii) the stability of nucleic acids and antigens at room temperature. Secondary lymphatic organs such as lymph nodes and spleen produce immune cells responsible for making antibodies and other immune responses. Therefore, targeted delivery to these secondary lymphatic organs is expected to massively increase the immune response while considerably reducing the vaccine dose needed. We also aim to develop paradigm-shifting gene delivery nanotechnology to maximise the endosomal escape ability of lipid nanoparticles, as well as their capacity to fully release nucleic acids inside cells. Furthermore, the next generation of nucleic acid vaccines will be designed to be stored at room temperature. We are also interested in making new nanoparticles as vaccine adjuvants. Our ultimate goal is to create new preventative and therapeutic vaccines for not only combating future pandemics and outbreaks but also treating cancers and autoimmune diseases.


Cardiovascular diseases

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death and disability globally. The sudden formation of blood clots in arteries and veins can block blood flow to the heart, brain and lungs, causing life-threatening emergencies including heart attack, stroke and pulmonary embolism. Our group aims to advance the early detection and safe removal of blood clots by nanotechnology and polymer chemistry. We collaborate closely with medical imaging experts and cardiovascular disease clinicians to create novel nanosensors and nanocarriers. We design nanosensors to bind specifically to blood clots or unstable plaques that can trigger the formation of blood clots. Our nanocarriers are designed to carry clot-dissolving drugs to the clots, minimising their side effects and improving their efficacy significantly. We also aim to combine the nanosensors and nanocarriers into one theranostic (therapeutic + diagnostic) platform that can not only detect the clots but also release drugs upon exposure to external stimuli such as near-infrared light or ultrasound).

Furthermore, our group has successfully established a microvascular network on a microfluidic chip. This synthetic microvascular network platform paves the way for studying interactions between nanoparticles and cells under blood flow conditions as well as rapidly screening our newly developed nanosensors and nanocarriers.


Antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Antibiotic resistance, together with pandemics and cardiovascular diseases, is one of the biggest public health challenges of our time. Our group aims to create new classes of antibiotics that can evade the development of resistance. We are particularly interested in antimicrobial copolymers/oligomers and magnetic liquid metal nanoparticles. We have successfully made several antimicrobial copolymers exhibiting high antibacterial properties while maintaining low toxicity to healthy cells. Key to our approach is the control of copolymer molecular weight, sequence, dispersity and architecture, allowing us to make antimicrobial copolymers targeting and degrading bacterial membranes. Such an approach is expected to minimise the development of antibiotic resistance. However, bacterial cells can form a biofilm, which is hard to treat with antibiotics or antimicrobial copolymers. Magnetic liquid metal nanoparticles have been therefore explored to physically damage, disintegrate, and kill pathogens within a biofilm. Our goal is to combine polymer chemistry with nanotechnology to overcome the antibiotic resistance challenge.