Technion- Israel Institute of Technology
Wolfson Department of Chemical Engineering, Office 359, Technion City, Haifa 3200003, Israel
My research group at the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology is developing biomimetic nanoparticles (inspired by nature) to treat neurodegenerative pediatric diseases, traumatic brain injuries, and breast and ovarian cancers.
Our primary design principle is that with years of experience and countless experimenters nature is the ultimate engineer! Therefore, in our research group, we learn from nature what are the basic biological mechanisms by which the cells in our bodies locate, bind and communicate with other cells and use the same mechanisms to fabricate biomimetic nanoparticles (NP) (i.e., NP that mimic the activity of the body's natural cells) with various structures, unique properties and the ability to deliver a variety of therapeutic cargos. More specifically, we examine how membrane proteins extracted from native cells can be incorporated into synthetic nanometric drug delivery systems in order to improve their ability to target cells, thus increasing the efficacy of the drugs carried by them while preventing damage to healthy tissues.
Recent developments in messenger RNA (mRNA) therapies have drawn significant attention to their ability to address unmet clinical needs. In the last two years, we have witnessed the rapid and effective clinical development of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, slowing the spread of the epidemic worldwide. In addition, it is now clear that mRNA will affect a variety of clinical applications, some of which have never been tried mRNAs such as: vaccines, treatment of genetic mutations, various protein expressions, and possibly even neurodevelopmental diseases. Despite advances in mRNA synthesis, the use of mRNA as a therapeutic substance requires a transport system because mRNA can be disassembled by free enzymes and rapidly secreted from the body. In the past, viral transfection and plasmids of DNA have been widely used as the classic ways of genetic healing. However, these transport systems may alter the human genome and, therefore, never be implemented in a clinic. On the other hand, lipid-based nanoparticles (LNP) and liposomes have been in clinical use to treat cancer and infectious diseases for over 25 years. Thus, LNP represents the most common non-viral vector for mRNA transmission.
Our lab goal is to be one of the world's leading research groups in developing targeted biomimetic NP that can encapsulate a wide range of therapeutic molecules, including mRNA, proteins and small molecules, thus revolutionizing the way we treat various diseases.
Topics to speak on:
Biomimicry; Nanoparticles; Cancer; Traumatic Brain Injury; Rare Pediatric Disease
Assaf Zinger, short bio:
I am an Assistant Professor in the Chemical Engineering department at Technion- Israel Institute of Technology, an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Cardiovascular Sciences and Neurosurgery departments at Houston Methodist Academic Institue, TX, USA and a member of the Global Young Academy. Leveraging my interdisciplinary skills I have developed several nanotechnologies using various drug delivery systems and now I am translating these findings into clinically relevant therapies. I strongly believe that the quality of someone’s research is not defined by their religion, their gender, or the color of their skin and that a strong lab needs a heterogeneous population of students that will lead to a fruitful thinking group.
My team believes in pursuing new ideas, in multidisciplinary science, and in working together as a team. We measure our impact by the patient lives we improve, the phenomena we explore, the technologies we develop, and the scientific careers we cultivate.
During my graduate studies under the supervision of Prof. Avi Schroeder, I have proposed a new model for performing molecularly-accurate surgery, without harming healthy tissues that surround the surgical site. By harnessing enzymes loaded into nanoparticles, I demonstrated that surgery can be targeted specifically to the diseased tissue. I have applied this approach for breaching tumor tissues and enhancing drug penetration into fibrotic cancerous tissues. In a parallel project, we demonstrated the effect of the ovulation cycle on nanoparticles uptake in the ovaries, a phenomenon that might affect the way cancer patients are being treated nowadays.
My research strategy is to utilize specific cellular biomarkers into nanoparticles while retaining the versatility of these nanoparticles to load and release drugs with various chemical properties (e.g., hydrophilic, amphiphilic, and lipophilic) and deliver a wide range of therapeutic cargos such as mRNA and siRNA, proteins, and small molecules.
Alon Fellowship (Israel)
Outstanding Postdoc of the Year (Houston Methodist Academic Institute; Houston Methodist Hospital, TX, USA)
The Technion Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute (RBNI) excellence award (Israel)
Excellence in peer-reviewed publication: Houston Methodist Academic Institute (HMAI), Houston Methodist Hospital, TX USA
Lindau Nobel laureate meeting elected young scientist, Germany