Michael Sailor: Nanomaterials for biomedical and chemical sensing applications

The lab at UCSD is developing "nanorobots" -- silicon-based structures for use in nanomedicine.

27 January 2017

Michael J. Sailor is Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and holds affiliate appointments in the Bioengineering; Nanoengineering; and Materials Science and Engineering programs at UCSD.

SPIE recently visited Professor Sailor's lab to learn more about his work with nanomaterials in preparation for his upcoming plenary presentation at SPIE Photonics West.

The lab works primarily with targeted nanoparticles, creating silicon-based nanomaterials for use in nanomedicine.

Professor Sailor uses the term "nanorobots" to explain how these nanomaterials function within the body. Much like programmers use code and electrical circuits with robots, the team uses chemistry to instruct the nanoparticles where to go, what to do once there, and perhaps most importantly, how long to stick around.

"A targeted nanoparticle is a structure that typically has some kind of an antibody or molecule that the cells you're trying to target want to see," he explained. "For example, when a cancer cell is growing very quickly, that cell is trying to pick up nutrients and other molecules from the blood stream that allow it to grow faster."

Folate is among the nutrients sought by growing cancer cells, Sailor said. "So if you put a folate molecule on your nanoparticle, when it swims around and encounters a cancer cell, there is a greater likelihood of it sticking to that cancer cell than to normal cells."

According to Sailor, one of the great successes of the lab is the startup Spinnaker Biosciences. The company started as a research collaboration with fellow UCSD professor and ophthalmologist William Freeman, for delivery of therapeutics to the eye.

Spinnaker Biosciences is now commercializing nanoporous silicon particles for drug delivery that were developed in the lab. Noting that he previously had no idea of the great need for therapeutic delivery to the eye, Sailor spoke of the importance of interdisciplinary science.

"One of the most important aspects of not only nanotechnology, but material science in general, is how it has evolved to become a very interdisciplinary science," Sailor said. "We typically capture our applications from the real world, but we focus on what we are good at, and in our lab, what we are good at is silicon. We take those materials and figure out what kind of applications they may have, based on strong interactions with people who have the real problems. That's really where all the interesting things are happening nowadays, at the interface between two domains."

To learn more about the work of Professor Sailor and the use of nanoparticles for medicine, attend his upcoming plenary presentation at SPIE Photonics West on "Porous Silicon Nanoparticles as Self-Reporting Drug Delivery Vehicles," on Tuesday 31 January.

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