Despite decades of research, applying cancer nanomedicine for patient care still faces many challenges, including inefficient nanoparticle delivery to tumours, safety concerns associated with inorganic nanomaterials, navigating a diverse tumour architecture and microenviroment, and over-complexity in nanoparticle design. In 2011, we discovered first-in-class organic nanoparticles, termed porphysomes, with the ability to address these limitations. They are non-toxic, being made from lipid and natural pigment porphyrins, but their simplicity makes them incredibly versatile. Stemming from a single porphyrin-lipid building block, they can exhibit multifunctional imaging and therapeutic properties. These diverse properties include the ability to bind metals, and transform locally delivered light energy into heat, sound waves, or chemicals toxic to cancer cells.

Much of our lab team’s current work builds upon porphysomes’ inherent multifunctionality to expand knowledge and address key issues in cancer nanomedicine, phototherapy, and drug delivery through the creation of a new generation of porphyrin biomaterials:

1) Porphyrin microbubbles and biomimetic porphyrin nanoparticles able to effectively target brain tumour therapy beyond the blood-brain barrier and expand our understanding of the mechanisms of microbubble-mediated focused ultrasound-enabled drug delivery;

2) Porphyrin nanoparticles that harness the immune system to enhance lung cancer therapy;

3) Stimuli-responsive porphyrin nanoparticles that improves phototherapy efficacy and safety; and

4) Nanoparticles made of expanded porphyrin molecules with the ability to bind metals for nuclear and radiation medicine.

Over decades of research, we have cultivated and leverage a strong network of collaborators to facilitate the clinical translation of these materials, including establishing the clinical safety and efficacy of the prototypical porphysome. Ultimately, our goal as a research team is to develop clinically relevant materials that realize the potential of cancer nanomedicine in improving current cancer therapy regimens and diagnostic options.

For prospective students: Our lab’s fundamental research philosophy draws upon a diverse, integrated view of science, and our laboratory team reflects that synergy. We have recruited trainees across many scientific backgrounds — including chemistry, physics, biology, and engineering — as all of these disciplines often play a role in the design, characterization, implementation, and translation of nanomaterials. If you are curious about whether our lab is right for you, try reading some of our fundamental papers and more recent work to orient yourself regarding the basics of nanomedicine and the current ways in which we are innovating across the field, respectively. If you’re still intrigued, contact us about joining the team!

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