Nanotechnology has found many applications in medicine, particularly for drug delivery and imaging. However, in recent years, nano-approaches have also been developed for bio-detoxification. Materials known as nanosponges can be designed to capture toxic compounds and reduce their concentrations in the body. In particular, they have been found to absorb a range of toxins derived from bacteria. One clinical condition that could benefit from nanosponge technology is hepatic encephalopathy (HE). This is a neuropsychiatric syndrome associated with advanced liver disease in which the body is unable to effectively control neurotoxic compounds produced by intestinal bacteria. The goal of this project is to develop nanosponges for the removal of toxins from both the intestinal lumen and blood in advanced liver disease.
The project will consist of several components. Initially, a range of types of nanosponges will be generated that are able to bind a variety of different bacterial toxins. In this work, the student will obtain practical experience in the design and synthesis of nanomaterials. The nanosponges will then be tested in vitro using both bacterial and mammalian cell cultures to assess their effectiveness in binding toxins and to ensure that the materials themselves are not toxic to mammalian cells. Nanosponges that prove successful during in vitro testing will then be trialled in animal models, including mouse models of liver disease. In addition to providing information on the efficacy and safety of the nano-materials, these studies will also provide an introduction to biodistribution and pharmacokinetic analyses. This work will also contain a clinical component in which a thorough characterization of the types of toxins produced during HE is undertaken. This information will be essential before the materials can be moved from the pre-clinical stage into patients.
This project is suitable for PhD students with either a basic science or a clinical background.