Mabel FitzGerald Prize Lecture 2021: Designing materials to heal the body and detect diseases earlier

This talk will provide an overview of our work in the design of functionalised polymer nanoparticles and hybrid biomaterials for applications in healthcare. We engineer simple conceptually novel approaches to detect disease biomarkers, such as abnormally regulated enzymes, to extend the detection window for early disease diagnostics. We aim to design biosensing strategies that are simple, cost-effective and easy deploy to the point-of-care to democratise access to advanced diagnostic technology. I will discuss impactful biosensing applications for infectious and non-communicable diseases for example innovative smartphone enabled tests for epidemic surveillance in the field [2] and injectable nanoparticle-based sensing probes for in vivo detection of cancer that produce a colorimetric response in urine in under 1 hour [3]. We use advanced manufacture techniques to engineer complex 3D architectures that mimic anisotropic and multiscale tissue structures and produce spatially arranged bioinstructive materials to transform the regenerative medicine field [4]. To support the discovery of innovative biomaterials, we develop an array of characterisation techniques such as Raman spectroscopy characterisation for high-throughput tracking of surface functionalisation in single nanoparticles [4], visualisation of 3-dimensional polymer structures for tissue engineering applications and FIB-SEM for investigating the cell-material interface. I will discuss how these versatile approaches can be applied to heal the body and detect diseases earlier.

[1] A. Creamer, C. S. Wood, P. D. Howes, A. Casey, S. Cong, A. V. Marsh, R. Godin, J. Panidi, C. H. Burgess, T. Wu, Z. Fei, I. Hamilton, M. A. McLachlan, M. M. Stevens, M. Heeney. “Quantitative post-polymerisation functionalisation of conjugated polymer backbones and its application in multi-functionalised semiconducting polymer nanoparticles.” Nature Communications. 2018. 9: 3237.

[2] C. S. Wood, M. R. Thomas, J. Budd, T. P. Mashamba-Thompson, K. Herbst, D. Pillay, R. W. Peeling, A. M. Johnson, R. A. McKendry, M. M. Stevens. “Taking connected mobile-health diagnostics of infectious diseases to the field.” Nature. 2019. 566: 467-474.

[3] C. N. Loynachan, A. P. Soleimany, J. S. Dudani, Y. Lin, A. Najer, A. Bekdemir, Q. Chen, S. N. Bhatia, M. M. Stevens. “Renal clearable catalytic gold nanoclusters for in vivo disease monitoring.” Nature Nanotechnology. 2019. 14: 883–890.

[4] J. P. K. Armstrong, T. J. Kean, A. C. Roques, P. Stephen Patrick, C. M. Mooney, W.-L. Kuan, V. Pisupati, R. O. C. Oreffo, D. J. Stuckey, F. M. Watt, S. J. Forbes, R. A. Barker M. M. Stevens. “A blueprint for translational regenerative medicine.” Science Translational Medicine. 2020. 12(572): eaaz2253.

[5] J. Penders, I. J. Pence, C. Horgan, M. Bergholt, C. Wood, A. Najer, U. Kauscher, A. Nagelkerke, M. M. Stevens. “Single particle automated Raman trapping analysis.” Nature Communications. 2018, 9: 4256.