In vivo multimodality imaging is a fast growing field in medical research. Although the achievements at clinical level of this diagnostic method are recent, it is already one of the most promising approaches in the diagnosis of diseases at many research medical centres.
The 3MICRON project team gathers together scientists from some of the most advanced European medical and technical institutions to design a set of new diagnostics strategies based on advanced medical imaging, and to push the potential of this technology beyond the state-of-the-art.
Multimodality imaging is currently viewed as a simple and powerful integration of two or more imaging methods (e.g. PET-CT). In the 3MICRON project, the multimodality approach being taken is supported by a class of next-generation micro/nanodevices called microballoons. In other imaging methods (SPECT, MRI), these subsystems at present provide the function of an ultrasound contrast agent. In the approach being taken by 3MICRON, they could act as a minimally invasive drug delivery method and hyperthermia device.
The project team will test these multi-functional microballoon devices both in vitro and in vivo in order to assess bioclearance and cytoxicity effects toward high impact diseases, e.g. vascular and inflammation pathologies. Finally, selected types of microballoons will undergo pre-clinical screening for a consolidated assessment of the “bench-to-bed” pathway for such new microdevices.
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About 90% of cancer mortality today is associated with metastases. These metastases are due to a small number of circulating tumour cells that escape the primary tumour, travel in the blood, and contaminate distant organs in multiple locations. Unfortunately, current methods of detecting these moving tumour cells show micro-metastases only in patients with advanced cancer, and they allow the identification of very few biomarkers.
Finding a way to overcome these limitations is the main task of the CAMINEMS project. The consortium partners aim to develop new methods of sorting, characterising and studying rare cancer cells, particularly circulating tumour cells. The team is working on a nanoparticle-based detection system that can capture rare tumour cells with a high yield, and optical nano-observation and cell-culture tools that allow multi-biomarker typing of these cells and their study using cell-biology methods.
With its microfluidic nature, the system is designed for optimal development of minimally invasive sampling methods, thus reducing risk and discomfort for patients. It will also improve the power of CTC screening for treatment orientation and follow-up, in strong synergy with personalised medicine strategies.
Finally, the CAMINEMS technology will also facilitate forefront research on the metastatic process and the development of new drugs. Besides its application in cancer diagnosis and prognosis, the system will be of great help in capturing and studying the circulating tumour cells, understanding their metabolism, and their response to existing or candidate drugs.
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The MAGNIFYCO project aims to assemble and fabricate a new generation of multifunctional nanostructures to combine both hyperthermia treatment and controlled drug release. The target is specifically to treat ovarian cancer.
The project team is developing a series of magnetic nanocontainers that can perform cell recognition and hyperthermia treatment at the same time, and as a consequence of the heat and /or cell environment stimuli, control the release of drugs designed to attack ovarian carcinomas.
The planned nanocontainers will include three main components: magnetic nanoparticles that support detection by MRI and cancer treatment by hyperthermia, and provide stimuli for drug release; the nanocontainers which encapsulate the drug and protect it from degradation until it is stimulated by heat or the acidic pH of the tumour cells; and the antibody fragments attached to the surface of the magnetic nanocontainers to deliver them selectively to the ovarian cancer cells.
The individual building blocks and their assemblies will be characterized by their physical, chemical, and biological features, and the results disseminated as widely as possible. In vivo animal studies will be carried out on the most successful magnetic nanocontainers to test their suitability for application in human patients.
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MEDITRANS is a multidisciplinary Integrated Project dealing with targeted nanomedicines. The project aims to develop a range of platform technologies that will help improve treatment of diseases such as chronic inflammatory disorders (rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis) and cancer.
The broad objectives include endowing nanomedicines (based on carrier materials like polymeric and lipidic nanoparticles, nanotubes, and fullerenes) with superior targeting and triggerable drug-release properties. In parallel, the project partners are designing magnetic-resonance-imaging probes able to report on the localisation of nanomedicines, specific biomarkers, the drug release process and therapeutic outcome (imaging-guided drug delivery).
MEDITRANS has already delivered four advanced drug-delivery courses for partners and key stakeholders. In addition, a MEDITRANS website was developed as a platform for education and training, and to facilitate the exchange of MEDITRANS young scientists. The website contains sections on forthcoming training courses, training course materials, staff exchanges, PhD student networking and on the GALENOS network. Eleven MEDITRANS staff went on exchange and GALENOS activities were widely promoted.
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For drugs to reach their target cells, they need to be designed to pass biological barriers such as the gastro-intestinal barrier and the blood-brain barrier. Yet getting the larger molecules of drug treatments to cross the biological barriers within the human body is a major challenge.
Treating Alzheimer’s disease for example requires a drug capable of this. Overcoming this challenge is the focus for the NAD project, which aims to create nanoparticles that are able to cross the blood/brain barrier to reach the brain, the principal site of Alzheimer's. Statistics indicate that over 24 million people today have dementia, with 4.6 million new cases every year (one new case every 7 seconds). In the EU, about five to six million people have dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease accounting for over three million.
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One of the most rapidly advancing fields in medical diagnostics is point of care (POC). Diagnosis of major diseases, often retarded by the need to send samples to centralised laboratories for testing or confirmation, can be speeded up. A new diagnostic tool to detect important biomarkers would enhance reliability and accuracy of diagnosis at the point of care.
The main goal of the NANOANTENNA project is to develop a diagnostic instrument capable of measuring in vitro a range of biomarkers, while keeping the diagnosis process itself simple, sensitive, reliable, and inexpensive. The target applications include diagnosis of cardio-vascular disease, cancer and infectious diseases.
The NANOANTENNA system will allow advanced diagnosis of disease in the doctor's office or the emergency ward, places where regular or enhanced tests for disease biomarkers cannot always be performed. The system is based on optical sensing at nano level of the vibration signals of certain types of proteins in body fluids; proteins that have been identified as specific biomarkers of common diseases.
The project is exploiting the optical properties of specially designed metallic nanoparticles (which act as nanoantenna) to deliver the enhanced vibration detection of any proteins bound to the nanoparticle. The aim is to detect proteins with concentrations lower than 1pM, and finally to reach detection thresholds of femtomole or lower.
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Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s pose a tremendous challenge to modern medicine. Treating such diseases often requires the application of drugs, all associated with side-effects that such treatments deliver.
Improving the precision and accuracy of the pharmaceuticals used for such treatments is the purpose of the consortium behind the NanoBioPharmaceutics project. The team are developing nano-sized carriers for these drugs, designed for oral and nasal delivery yet capable of crossing physiological barriers (e.g. the blood/brain barrier) to allow precise targeting and release of the drug
NanoBioPharmaceutics is aiming at biodegradable nanoparticle-based carrier systems to transport protein or peptide drugs safely across physiological barriers and release them at the target site within the body.
The team is also investigating new cell-culture test systems to compare the results with those obtained from animal testing. A long term goal is to find methods for the reduction and maybe eventually the replacement of animal experiments, which are currently required for testing new medication.
Three years into the project, the NanoBioPharmaceutics team has already designed a broad range of nanocarrier systems. These systems are now being optimised and investigated for their suitability to transport drugs via oral or nasal uptake, and their ability to cross the blood/brain barrier.
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The EU has about five to six million people currently living with some form of dementia. At the same time, testing and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is complicated and time consuming (taking up to 20 months). Finding a faster way to test for the relevant protein markers inside blood would improve early diagnosis and consequently treatment of dementia.
This is the task for the consortium in the NANOGNOSTICS project, The team aims to implement a protein detection method based on Förster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET), which makes use of antibodies and aptamers as recognition reagents for detecting multiple indications of Alzheimer’s disease. The technology can be adapted to other diseases by simply changing the biomarker binding reagents.
The NANOGNOSTICS approach is based on using semiconductor quantum dots (QDs), which with their size-dependent absorption and emission wavelengths and longer luminescence lifetimes offer multiple sensing for diagnostics even for large immune complexes.
FRET applications using QDs are to date restricted to academic research and are not yet widely understood. The NANOGNOSTICS team is working towards a better understanding of QD-based FRET, and the creation of highly efficient QD immune sensors for detection of several Alzheimer-specific protein markers.
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The SONODRUGS project is developing novel drug-delivery technologies for localised treatment of cardiovascular disease and cancer. SONODRUGS develops drug delivery concepts where drug release can be triggered by focused, ultrasound-induced pressure or temperature stimuli within the diseased tissue.
Medical imaging, i.e. magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound imaging, is used to guide, follow and quantify the drug delivery process. Therapy efficacy using different drug delivery systems will be assessed in vitro and subsequently in preclinical studies.
Starting from research on a broad range of materials and drugs, two nanocarriers will be finally selected, optimized and produced on a pilot scale in combination with image-guided delivery tools and methods.
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The Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for Research and Technological Development is the EU's main instrument for funding research in Europe, running from 2007 to 2013, with an overall budget of € 50.5 billion.
Information about FP7 individual funded projects can be found on the CORDIS online database.
Calls for proposals are published on the Participants Portal.
Nanotechnology research under the EU FP7 NMP priority supports the competitiveness of European industry. The NMP programme has already advanced a wide range of fields and industries, including nanomedicine, transport, construction, energy, electronics, textiles, machine tools and robotics.
The aim of the EU FP7 Health research priority is to improve the health of European citizens, to address global health issues and to boost the competitiveness of European health-related industries.
DG Research and Innovation