The NSERC Strategic Network for Bioplasmonic Systems (BiopSys) aims to develop new plasmonics-based technologies that will shorten the time needed for diagnosis and improve prognosis of lung cancer and leukemia. Bioplasmonics, an enabling technology based on optical illumination for the sensitive detection of biological molecules, offers a promise of radical technological advances in science and engineering that can be harnessed to improve screening for cancer.
Lung cancer is the foremost cause of cancer death in Canada and most of the developed world. One long-term practical goal of the Network is the development of technologies to detect lung cancer when it is at an earlier stage than is currently possible. Leukemia causes the most cancer deaths among adolescents and young adults in Canada. A second practical goal is to exploit the integration of molecular and optical technologies developed by the Network to enable the creation of instruments for fast screening, as well as point-of-care devices that are miniaturized and possible to manufacture cheaply.
Challenges in plasmonics and bioplasmonics that will be explored by BiopSys are beyond the capabilities of any small cluster of scientists and engineers. This network connects talented researchers from many different disciplines and creates an optimal pool of expertise to successfully tackle critical problems that will aim toward major advances in biomedical technologies. The 20 BiopSys investigators and their students hail from the University of Toronto, École Polytechnique de Montréal, University of Ottawa, University of Victoria, University of Western Ontario and the University of Windsor, and there is also a collaborating scientist at NRC's Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences (NRC-SIMS). These researchers represent diverse and complementary expertise in physics, chemistry, biochemistry, biomedical science, biology, materials science and engineering. The Network's supporting sponsors are Vive Nano, Lumerical and SHARCNET.
Principal Investigator, Gilbert Walker, (University of Toronto) directs the BiopSys Network. Network research is organized around three interconnected theme areas, led by Warren Chan (University of Toronto), Alexandre Brolo (University of Victoria) and Ming Tsao (Princess Margaret Hospital/University of Toronto). The BiopSys management and oversight includes a Board of Directors, a Scientific Advisory Committee and an Expert Advisory Panel.
The technological scope of the BiopSys Network ranges from the fundamental science of plasmonics optics to the fabrication of devices with likely clinical applications. The research approach is to seek better alternatives to the currently available fluorescence methods for cell-surface receptor detection, using the significant opportunities available from the local illumination approach of plasmonics. The technical objectives involve the development and use of tiny metal nanoparticles as light beacons for the receptors, or nanostructured metal surfaces, as sensitive transmitters of molecular binding events. Platforms will be developed for examining model biochemical systems, followed by the development of diagnostic tools for lung cancer and leukemia.
Research is focused in the following three theme areas, where coordination of effort using bioplasmonics has great potential to ensure major innovations:
BiopSys is poised to make revolutionary improvements in biomolecular interaction analysis, and to develop new biomedical diagnostic technologies that will have a major impact on cancer diagnosis and prognosis, leading to healthier lives for Canadians. Consultation and scientific interactions among the BiopSys research groups and industrial partners will lead to benefits that increase the technological advantage and market leadership of Canadian industries to increase their global competitiveness in the burgeoning field of nanotechnology. The strategic network mechanism, with its emphasis on coordinating science and technology transfer, will additionally provide uniquely valuable training experiences for young researchers to prepare them for entrepreneurial careers that will lead to innovations that benefit the Canadian economy.