A nanomedicine research group led by a University of Toronto chemist has received a $5-million grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), giving them the green light to develop faster ways of detecting leukemia and lung cancer cells.
"This funding will lead to healthier lives for Canadians," says Gilbert Walker, a professor in U of T's Department of Chemistry and primary investigator of the Network for Bioplasmonic Systems (BiopSys). "Our first goal is to determine the presence of lung cancer at an earlier stage than is currently possible, which will permit faster screening. Our second goal is to develop similar devices for detecting leukemia that will greatly decrease the time needed for diagnosis."
The BiopSys network aims to speed up cancer diagnosis by incorporating an emerging technology known as plasmonics into existing procedures that use cancer markers found on the surfaces of cells. Plasmonics – a technique that produces waves of electrons when light hits a metal surface – offers significant opportunities for increasing the number of types of cancer markers that can be identified simultaneously.
"Bioplasmonics uses light illumination and engineers it for the extremely sensitive detection of biological molecules," says Walker. "BiopSys will develop technologies that allow for more selective detection of diseases and other health conditions that are evident on cell surfaces."
The BiopSys network is one of two U of T projects to receive a $5-million funding boost through NSERC's Strategic Research Networks program, announced today at McMaster University. The other – led by computer scientist Renée Miller, Bell Canada Chair of Information Systems at U of T – looks at developing better information management systems for business, scientific, and government organizations.
"We are delighted that two of the nine networks created today are based at U of T," says Professor Paul Young, U of T's vice-president (research). "These grants fund large-scale multi-disciplinary projects that have the potential to bring great benefit to society in the coming years, and this is exactly the kind of work that Professor Walker is leading. We will look to him and others like him who are working closely with collaborators in academia and industry for innovations that will improve the nation's economy and the quality of life of its citizens."
The network, which will receive NSERC funding of $1 million per year for five years, is unique in that it brings together experts from a wide range of disciplines and skill sets. U of T researchers in the Departments of Chemistry, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Physics and the Faculty of Medicine are involved, as well as scientists from the Universities of Ottawa, Victoria, Western Ontario and Windsor. The team also includes scientists from the École Polytechnique de Montréal and Toronto's Mt. Sinai and Princess Margaret Hospitals as well as industrial partners.
"We are extremely grateful to NSERC for its continued investment in excellence and for its support of U of T research," says University of Toronto president David Naylor. "The BiopSys network represents a unique partnership between universities, industry and government that will lead to revolutionary improvements in cancer diagnosis. The network brings together some of the best minds from a wide range of disciplines, including biochemistry, engineering and physics. Through its industrial partners, BiopSys will be able to transfer that knowledge into practice quickly, developing equipment of significant value to Canadians."