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Posted: Oct 18, 2012
Tel Aviv University to spearhead groundbreaking nanotechnology consortium
(Nanowerk News) Tel Aviv University has been appointed by the Israel National Nanotechnology Initiative (INNI) to lead a consortium on "Nanomedicines for Personalized Theranostics", a combined system of diagnostics and therapeutic treatments. This consortium of 11 laboratories will be dedicated to developing nano-sized drug delivery systems for the detection and treatment of various diseases. Eight of the labs are TAU-led, with additional participation from Hebrew University Jerusalem, Bar-Ilan University and Ben Gurion University of the Negev.
The $11.5 million project, designated a Focal Theology Area (FTA) within the INNI and scheduled to last five years, is poised to create a center of excellence in nanotechnology in Israel, says Scientific Director Prof. Dan Peer of TAU's Department of Cell Research and Immunology and Center for Nano Science and Nano Technology. The FTA will be supported by an international scientific advisory board, headed by internationally renowned Prof. Robert Langer of MIT.
The ultimate goal is to design a new class of drugs that can destroy faulty proteins in angiogenesis-dependent diseases that involve the growth of new blood vessels from existing vessels — including cancer, infectious diseases and heart diseases — and deliver these drugs safely into the body. Beyond the academic realm, the group aims to create spin-off companies based on licensed technologies they develop, creating the basis for a thriving biotechnology industry within Israel.
Building a successful industry
Although considered a beacon of research and development, the field of biotechnology in Israel has suffered drawbacks, both in academia and industry. Higher salaries lure the best minds abroad, and international companies have more private capital with which to sustain businesses.
"Israel has amazing intellectual resources, but we are constantly combating budget constraints. With this project, the idea is to create future technologies built on Israeli creativity that also allow us to bring in the brightest people and better funding," says Prof. Peer. While many great biotechnology ideas were born in Israel, the economic situation stymied the establishment of many more successful companies within the country, he observes. "We want to maintain the advantages that we have in the life sciences while boosting this lagging industry. Our research as part of the FTA will be a starting engine."
Prof. Peer hopes that in two years, researchers will be able to start translating their research into practical applications.
The INNI is also working to combat "brain drain" in the academic world by giving TAU and other institutions the means to attract outstanding young researchers back home to Israel, both with funding and with the prestige of the project. New faculty positions at TAU are already being filled, and will continue to be created as part of FTA.
A personalized theranostics approach
This research project is poised to answer a crucial need in modern medicine, advancing the fields of theranostics and personalized medicine.
The major goal of the project is to design a new class of drugs based on genomic information taken from each patient, and then use nano carriers to deliver appropriate drug therapy into specific cell types. Because each patient is biologically different, a one-size-fits-all medical solution doesn't always give the best therapeutic results. "Each person reacts differently to medications," explains Prof. Peer. "In the long term, the idea is to tailor-make not only the drug carrier, but the drug itself for a personalized approach."