Fellowship provides platform for nano work

Paul Mayne//Western News

Western Chemical & Biochemical Engineering professor Arghya Paul recently received the Wolfe-Western Fellowship At-Large for Outstanding Newly Recruited Research Scholars. He and his team are working towards developing a new class of bio-functional nanomaterials for drug and gene delivery, regenerative tissue engineering and advanced biomedical devices.

Arghya Paul sees himself a problem solver.

As engineered nanomaterials play an increasingly important role in health care, getting those nanomaterials to their intended target becomes all the more important. But it remains a difficult task.

“If you have an injury with inflammation, and if the nanoparticles can sense that inflammation, they can all go there. It comes down the chemistry and biochemistry,” said Paul, a Chemical & Biochemical Engineering professor and Canada Research Chair in Advanced Cell-Instructive Materials and Biotherapeutics. He is also jointly appointed with the Department of Chemistry.

“It’s more precise. That is the way the nanoparticles work. It gives us an advantage to deliver certain things to the cells the way we want, like targeted delivery.

“What we do is play with materials and biomaterials and see how we can contribute to the medical field or, in another sense, we take problems from the doctors, understand their problems and bring that to the lab and try to solve it in an engineering approach.”

Paul, who arrived at Western from the University of Kansas this August, recently received the Wolfe-Western Fellowship At-Large for Outstanding Newly Recruited Research Scholars.

Paul heads up the BioIngenuity & Therapeutics Engineering Laboratory at Western where he and his team are working towards developing a new class of bio-functional nanomaterials for drug and gene delivery, regenerative tissue engineering and advanced biomedical devices.

“My focus is more on using or trying out different materials which can be used for tissue engineering applications,” he said, noting the huge gap between organ donors and the people who are getting them. “There is a scarcity (with organs), so you are developing certain materials or tissues in the lab which can be functional, for example, a blood vessel. It will take time. You need to have it structured in such a way that it gives meaning and function.”

With stents, the tiny tube a doctor inserts into a blocked passageway to keep it open, 1-in-4 of these metal or plastic devices experience reclogging of the arteries. This leads to scarring.

Through his work, Paul hopes to make such results a thing of the past by covering the stents with a polymer coating of “genes of interest” that would help in healing the arteries.

“So far, it has been just drugs that are used. But with this approach, we should see how we could heal that area so there is no scarring,” he said.

Paul said the Wolfe-Western fellowship will act as a springboard to accelerate this, and some of his work, that may have been deemed “down-the-road” research.

“It really gives me the platform to take some risks which I maybe wouldn’t have taken in the first couple years here,” he said. “This is a big push for me to have this extra support from the university.”