Tag Archives: Sylvain Martel

Bob McDonald: How is Canada on the ‘forefront of pushing nanotechnology forward’?

Mr. Quirks & Quarks, also known as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) Bob McDonald, host of the science radio programme Quirks & Quarks, published an Oct. 9, 2016 posting on the programme’s CBC blog about the recently awarded 2016 Nobel Prize for Chemistry and Canada’s efforts in the field of nanotechnology (Links have been removed),

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded this week for developments in nanotechnology heralds a new era in science, akin to the discovery of electromagnetic induction 185 years ago. And like electricity, nanotechnology could influence the world in dramatic ways, not even imaginable today.

The world’s tiniest machines

The Nobel Laureates developed molecular machines, which are incredibly tiny devices assembled one molecule at a time, including a working motor, a lifting machine, a micro-muscle, and even a four wheel drive vehicle, all of which can only be seen with the most powerful electron microscopes. While these lab experiments are novel curiosities, the implications are huge, and Canada is on the forefront of pushing this research forward. [emphasis mine]

McDonald never explains how Canadians are pushing nanotechnology research further but there is this (Note: Links have been removed),

Many universities offer degree programs on the subject while organizations such as the National Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Alberta, and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, are conducting fundamental research on these new novel materials.

Somehow he never mentions any boundary-pushing research. hmmm

To be blunt, it’s very hard to establish Canada’s position in the field since ‘nanotechnolgy research’ as such doesn’t exist here in the way it does in the United States, Korea, Iran, Germany, China, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Austria, and others. It’s not a federally coordinated effort in Canada despite the fact that we have a Canada National Research Council (NRC) National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) in Alberta. (There’s very little information about research on the NINT website.) A Government of Canada NanoPortal is poorly maintained and includes information that is seriously out-of-date. One area where Canadians have been influential has been at the international level where we’ve collaborated on a number of OECD (Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development) projects focused on safety (occupational and environmental, in particular) issues.

Canada’s Ingenuity Lab, a nanotechnology project that appeared promising, hasn’t made many research announcements and seems to be a provincial (Alberta) initiative rather than a federal one. In fact, the most activity in the field of nanotechnology research has been at the provincial level with Alberta and Québec in the lead, if financial investment is your primary measure, and Ontario following, then the other provinces trailing from behind. Unfortunately, I’ve never come across any nanotechnology research from the Yukon or other parts North.

With regard to research announcements, the situation changes and you have Québec and Ontario assuming the lead positions with Alberta following. As McDonald noted, the University of Waterloo has a major nanotechnology education programme and the University of Toronto seems to have a very active research focus in that field (Ted Sargent and solar cells and quantum dots) and the University of Guelph is known for its work in agriculture and nanotechnolgy (search this blog using any of the three universities as a search term). In Québec, they’ve made a number of announcements about cutting edge research. You can search this blog for the names Sylvain Martel, Federico Rosei, and Claude Ostiguy (who seems to work primarily in French), amongst others. CelluForce, based in Quebec, and once  a leader (not sure about the situation these days) in the production of cellulose nanocrystals (CNC). One side comment, CNC was first developed at the University of British Columbia, however, Québec showed more support (provincial funding) and interest and the bulk of that research effort moved.

There’s one more shout out and that’s for Blue Goose Biorefineries in the province of Saskatchewan, which sells CNC and offers services to help companies  research applications for the material.

One other significant area of interest comes to mind, the graphite mines in Québec and Ontario which supply graphite flakes used to produce graphene, a material that is supposed to revolutionize electronics, in particular.

There are other research efforts and laboratories in Canada but these are the institutions and researchers with which I’m most familiar after more than eight years of blogging about Canadian nanotechnology. That said, if I’ve missed any significant, please do let me know in the comments section of this blog.

Canada’s Nanorobotics Laboratory unveils its ‘medical interventional infrastructure’

Located at the Polytechnique Montréal (Canada), the Nanorobotics Laboratory has built a one-of-a-kind ‘medical interventional infrastructure’, the result of a $4.6M investment from various levels of government and from private enterprise.

Before getting to the news release, here’s a video featuring Prof. Sylvain Martel who discusses his work by referencing the movie, Fantastic Voyage. There are subtitles for those whose French fails them,

From an Aug. 24, 2016 Polytechnique Montréal news release (also on EurekAlert),

Fifty years to the day after the film Fantastic Voyage was first shown in theatres, the Polytechnique Montréal Nanorobotics Laboratory is unveiling a unique medical interventional infrastructure devoted to the fight against cancer. The outcome of 15 years of research conducted by Professor Sylvain Martel and his team, it enables microscopic nanorobotic agents to be guided through the vascular systems of living bodies, delivering drugs to targeted areas.

An action-packed 100,000-kilometre journey in the human body

Fantastic Voyage recounted the adventure of a team of researchers shrunk to microscopic size who, aboard a miniature submarine, travelled into a patient’s body to conduct a medical operation in a surgically inoperable area. This science fiction classic has now been eclipsed by procedures and protocols developed by Professor Martel’s multidisciplinary team comprising engineers, scientists and experts from several medical specialties working together on these projects that herald the future of medicine.

“Our work represents a new vision of cancer treatments, with our goal being to develop the most effective transportation systems for the delivery of therapeutic agents right to tumour cells, to areas unreachable by conventional treatments,” says Professor Martel, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Medical Nanorobotics and Director of the Polytechnique Montréal Nanorobotics Laboratory.

Conveying nanorobotic agents into the bloodstream to reach the targeted area right up to the tiniest capillaries without getting lost in this network stretching about 100,000 kilometres—two-and-a-half times the Earth’s circumference—is a scenario that has been turned into reality. This is an adventure-filled journey for these microscopic vehicles that must confront the powerful onslaught of arterial blood flow, the mazes of the vascular network and the narrowness of the capillaries—just like the film’s heroes!

“Doctors” invisible to the naked eye

To conduct this fantastic voyage, Professor Martel’s team is developing various procedures, often playing a pioneering role. These include navigating carriers just a fraction of the thickness of a hair through the arteries using a clinical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) platform, the first in the world to achieve this in a living organism, in 2006. This exploit was followed in 2011 by the guidance of drug-loaded micro-transporters into the liver of a rabbit.

Limits to the miniaturization of artificial nanorobots prevent them from penetrating the smallest blood vessels, however. For this, Professor Martel plans to have them play the role of Trojan horses, enclosing an “army” of special bacteria loaded with drugs that they will release at the edges of these small vessels.

Able to follow paths smaller than a red blood cell, these self-propelled bacteria move at high speed (200 microns per second, or 200 times their size per second). Once they are inside a tumour, they are able to naturally detect hypoxic (oxygen-starved) zones, which are the most active zones and the hardest to treat by conventional means, including radiotherapy, and then deliver the drug.

Professor Martel’s team has succeeded in using this procedure to administer therapeutic agents in colorectal tumours in mice, guiding them through a magnetic field. This has just been the subject of an article in the renowned journal Nature Nanotechnology, titled Magneto-gerotactic Bacteria Deliver Drug-containing Nanoliposomes to Tumour Hypoxic Regions. “This advanced procedure, which provides optimal targeting of a tumour while preserving surrounding healthy organs and tissue, unlike current chemotherapy or radiotherapy, heralds a new era in cancer treatment,” says Dr. Gerald Batist, Director of the McGill Centre for Translational Research in Cancer, based at the Jewish General Hospital, which is collaborating on the project.

Professor Martel’s projects also focus on the inaccessibility of certain parts of the body, such as the brain, to transporting agents. In 2015, his team also stood out by successfully opening a rat’s blood-brain barrier, temporarily and without damage, providing access to targeted areas of the brain. This feat was achieved through a slight rise in temperature caused by exposing nanoparticles to a radiofrequency field.

“At present, 98% of drug molecules cross the blood-brain barrier only with great difficulty,” notes Dr. Anne-Sophie Carret, a specialist in hematology-oncology at Montréal’s Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine and one of the doctors collaborating on the project. “This means surgery is often the only way to treat some patients who have serious brain diseases. But certain tumours are inoperable because of their location. Radiation therapy, for its part, is not without medium- and long-term risk for the brain. This work therefore offers real hope to patients suffering from a brain tumour.”

Here’s who invested, how much they invested, and what the Nanorobotics Laboratory got for its money,

This new investment in the Nanorobotics Laboratory represents $4.6 million in infrastructure, with contributions of $1.85 million each from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), and the Government of Québec. Companies including Siemens Canada and Mécanik have also made strategic contributions to the project. This laboratory now combines platforms to help develop medical protocols for transferring the procedures developed by Professor Martel to a
clinical setting.

The laboratory contains the following equipment:

  • a clinical MRI platform to navigate microscopic carriers directly into specific areas in the vascular system and for 3D visualization of these carriers in the body;
  • a specially-developed platform that generates the required magnetic field sequences to guide special bacteria loaded with therapeutic agents into tumours;
  • a robotic station (consisting of a robotized bed) for moving a patient from one platform to another;
  • a hyperthermia platform for temporary opening of the blood-brain barrier;
  • a mobile X-ray system;
  • a facility to increase the production of these cancer-fighting bacteria.

Sylvain Martel’s most recent work with nanorobotic agents (as cited in the news release) was featured here in an Aug. 16, 2016 post.

Very precise nanorobots redefine the administration of anti-cancer drugs

A very exuberant announcement has been made about cancer drug delivery by precise nanorobots, which have been tested in mice, in an Aug. 15, 2016 news item on ScienceDaily,

Researchers from Polytechnique Montréal, Université de Montréal and McGill University have just achieved a spectacular breakthrough in cancer research. They have developed new nanorobotic agents capable of navigating through the bloodstream to administer a drug with precision by specifically targeting the active cancerous cells of tumours. This way of injecting medication ensures the optimal targeting of a tumour and avoids jeopardizing the integrity of organs and surrounding healthy tissues. As a result, the drug dosage that is highly toxic for the human organism could be significantly reduced.

This scientific breakthrough has just been published in the prestigious journal Nature Nanotechnology in an article titled “Magneto-aerotactic bacteria deliver drug-containing nanoliposomes to tumour hypoxic regions.” The article notes the results of the research done on mice, which were successfully administered nanorobotic agents into colorectal tumours.

An Aug. 15, 2016 Polytechnique Montréal news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work and the nanorobots or nanorobotic agents (bacteria) in more detail,

“These legions of nanorobotic agents were actually composed of more than 100 million flagellated bacteria – and therefore self-propelled – and loaded with drugs that moved by taking the most direct path between the drug’s injection point and the area of the body to cure,” explains Professor Sylvain Martel, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Medical Nanorobotics and Director of the Polytechnique Montréal Nanorobotics Laboratory, who heads the research team’s work. “The drug’s propelling force was enough to travel efficiently and enter deep inside the tumours.”

When they enter a tumour, the nanorobotic agents can detect in a wholly autonomous fashion the oxygen-depleted tumour areas, known as hypoxic zones, and deliver the drug to them. This hypoxic zone is created by the substantial consumption of oxygen by rapidly proliferative tumour cells. Hypoxic zones are known to be resistant to most therapies, including radiotherapy.

But gaining access to tumours by taking paths as minute as a red blood cell and crossing complex physiological micro-environments does not come without challenges. So Professor Martel and his team used nanotechnology to do it.

Bacteria with compass

To move around, bacteria used by Professor Martel’s team rely on two natural systems. A kind of compass created by the synthesis of a chain of magnetic nanoparticles allows them to move in the direction of a magnetic field, while a sensor measuring oxygen concentration enables them to reach and remain in the tumour’s active regions. By harnessing these two transportation systems and by exposing the bacteria to a computer-controlled magnetic field, researchers showed that these bacteria could perfectly replicate artificial nanorobots of the future designed for this kind of task.

“This innovative use of nanotransporters will have an impact not only on creating more advanced engineering concepts and original intervention methods, but it also throws the door wide open to the synthesis of new vehicles for therapeutic, imaging and diagnostic agents,” Professor Martel adds. “Chemotherapy, which is so toxic for the entire human body, could make use of these natural nanorobots to move drugs directly to the targeted area, eliminating the harmful side effects while also boosting its therapeutic effectiveness.”

This news contrasts somewhat with research at the University of Toronto (my April 27, 2016 posting) investigating how many drug-carrying nanoparticles find the cancer tumours they are intended for. The answer was that less than 1% make their way to the tumour and the conclusion those scientists reached was that we don’t know enough about how materials are delivered to the cells. My question, are the bacteria/nanorobots better at finding the tumours/cells? It’s not clear from the news release.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Magneto-aerotactic bacteria deliver drug-containing nanoliposomes to tumour hypoxic regions by Ouajdi Felfoul, Mahmood Mohammadi, Samira Taherkhani, Dominic de Lanauze, Yong Zhong Xu, Dumitru Loghin, Sherief Essa, Sylwia Jancik, Daniel Houle, Michel Lafleur, Louis Gaboury, Maryam Tabrizian, Neila Kaou, Michael Atkin, Té Vuong, Gerald Batist, Nicole Beauchemin, Danuta Radzioch, & Sylvain Martel. Nature Nanotechnology (2016)  doi:10.1038/nnano.2016.137 Published online 15 August 2016

This paper is behind a paywall.

Bacteria, pyramids, cancer, and Sylvain Martel

Canada’s national newspaper (as they like to bill themselves), the Globe and Mail featured Québec researcher’s (Sylvain Martel) work in a Dec. 13, 2011 article by Bertrand Marotte. From the news article,

Professor Sylvain Martel is already a world leader in the field of nano-robotics, but now he’s working to make a medical dream reality: To deliver toxic drug treatments directly to cancerous cells without damaging the body’s healthy tissue.

I have profiled Martel’s work before in an April 6 2010 posting about bacterial nanobots (amongst other subjects) and in a March 16, 2011 posting about his work with remote-controlled microcarriers.

It seems that his next project will combine the work on bacteria and microcarriers (from the Globe and Mail article),

Bolstered by his recent success in guiding micro-carriers loaded with cancer-fighting medications into a rabbit’s liver, he and his team of up to 20 researchers from several disciplines are working to transfer the method to the treatment of colorectal cancer in humans within four years.

This time around he is not using micro-carriers to deliver the drug to the tumour, but rather bacteria.

Here’s a video of the bacteria which illustrates Martel’s earlier success with ‘training’ them to build a pyramid.

The latest breakthrough reported in March 2011 (from my posting) implemented an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine,

Known for being the world’s first researcher to have guided a magnetic sphere through a living artery, Professor Martel is announcing a spectacular new breakthrough in the field of nanomedicine. Using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system, his team successfully guided microcarriers loaded with a dose of anti-cancer drug through the bloodstream of a living rabbit, right up to a targeted area in the liver, where the drug was successfully administered. This is a medical first that will help improve chemoembolization, a current treatment for liver cancer.

Here’s what Martel is trying to accomplish now (from the Globe and Mail article),

The MRI machine’s magnetic field is manipulated by [a] sophisticated software program that helps guide the magnetically sensitive bacteria to the tumour mass.

Attached to the bacteria is a capsule containing the cancer-fighting drug. The bacteria are tricked into swimming to an artificially created “magnetic north” at the centre of the tumour, where they will die off after 30 to 40 minutes. The micro-mules, however, have left their precious cargo: the capsule, whose envelope breaks and releases the drug.

I’m not entirely sure why the drug won’t destroy health tissue after it’s finished with the tumour but that detail is not offered in Marotte’s story which, in the last few paragraphs, switches focus from medical breakthroughs to the importance of venture capital funding for Canadian biotech research.

I wish Martel and his team great success.

Remote-controlled microcarriers and nanorobotics in Québec

They are called therapeutic magnetic microcarriers (TMMC) and they are drug delivery agents which have recently been successfully sent through a living rabbit’s bloodstream to a targeted area for successful administration of a drug. We’re in Fantastic Voyage (for those who don’t know the 1966 movie, it was more notable for then bombshell Raquel Welch’s presence than the science used to shrink a submarine filled with scientists to a microscopic size then injected into a dying diplomat’s bloodstream in an attempt to save his life) territory.

This latest breatkthrough comes from Sylvain Martel’s Nanorobotics Laboratory at Polytechnique Montréal (Québec, Canada). From the March 16, 2011 news item on Nanowerk,

Known for being the world’s first researcher to have guided a magnetic sphere through a living artery, Professor Martel is announcing a spectacular new breakthrough in the field of nanomedicine. Using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system, his team successfully guided microcarriers loaded with a dose of anti-cancer drug through the bloodstream of a living rabbit, right up to a targeted area in the liver, where the drug was successfully administered. This is a medical first that will help improve chemoembolization, a current treatment for liver cancer.

The therapeutic magnetic microcarriers (TMMCs) were developed by Pierre Pouponneau, a PhD candidate under the joint direction of Professors Jean-Christophe Leroux and Martel. These tiny drug-delivery agents, made from biodegradable polymer and measuring 50 micrometers in diameter — just under the breadth of a hair — encapsulate a dose of a therapeutic agent (in this case, doxorubicin) as well as magnetic nanoparticles. Essentially tiny magnets, the nanoparticles are what allow the upgraded MRI system to guide the microcarriers through the blood vessels to the targeted organ. During the experiments, the TMMCs injected into the bloodstream were guided through the hepatic artery to the targeted part of the liver where the drug was progressively released.

Martel’s work was last highlighted here in my April 6, 2010 posting. At that time he was working with bacteria which he and his team had guided into assembling into pyramid shapes. The team had also guided these bacteria through the bloodstream of a rat.  There’s more about this earlier work with bacteria in a July 28, 2010 article by Monique Roy-Sole on the Innovation Canada website. As you may have guessed from the ‘pyramids’,  Martel’s inspiration for that work came from Egypt,

Martel was inspired by the story of the pyramid of Djoser, built by an estimated 5,000 slaves around 2600 BC, and considered to be the earliest large-scale stone structure known to humankind. He decided to employ 5,000 bacteria in a drop of water as mini workers to construct a similar step pyramid in less than 15 minutes.

As for Martel’s first breakthrough (from Sole’s article),

In 2007, he and researchers from École Polytechnique and the Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal successfully injected a tiny magnetic device, measuring 1.5 millimetres in diameter, into the carotid artery of a pig, controlling and tracking its travels in the bloodstream with a clinical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. Since then, Martel and his team have been working at reducing the size of the device so it can circulate in smaller blood vessels. This would allow doctors to diagnose and treat areas of the body that current instruments, such as catheters, cannot reach.

I hope this proves to be successful. As anyone who’s had a family member or friend undergo cancer treatments knows, the procedures and medicines are crude in that they destroy healthy as well as diseased tissue. Hopefully, this kind of work will make the cures less drastic.