EVO-NANO Q&A – Igor Balaz on evolving nanoparticles for cancer therapy

Could you please introduce yourselves to the readers? I’m sure they would like to get to know the people behind this project.

I’m the EVO-NANO coordinator, a project where we are jointly trying to solve the outstanding problem of efficacy of drug delivery in nanomedicine. My background is quite diverse. After obtaining my B.Sc in Biology and M.Sc in Microbiology, I made a sharp turn towards more mathematically based research and got my PhD in physics of complex systems. Now I’m trying to integrate these areas through investigation of which general characteristics any system should have in order to evolve like living systems: to simultaneously fine-tune to changeable environment and at the same time be able to create novel functional structures to adapt to unforeseen external changes.

In this project we will tackle some of these issues by developing an artificial intelligence based platform for creating novel drug delivery systems. The human body is immensely complex, and testing all design parameters and strategies for different tumour scenarios would be at best extremely costly, if not outright impossible. Therefore, our goal is to harness power of biological creative evolvability, apply it to nanomedicine and create lasting benefit for patients.

If a researcher wanted to visit your laboratory/facility/company, what would be one thing you’d be eager to show off? Can you provide an image or a paper that shows it off?

In the lab we successfully integrate neatness of some members and near-chaos of others to create really exciting environment.

What’s your current outlook on this EVO-NANO project? Can you see where it will be going in the future?

Having cancer is bad enough to begin with, and dealing with numerous side effects of conventional chemotherapy makes things even worse. Within EVO-NANO we are creating next-generation technologies for medical use in several diverse areas with hope to reduce unnecessary suffering of cancer patients.

Our computational groups are working on developing systems able to innovatively generate and test novel nanoparticle-based strategies in silico. Our chemical synthesis group is dealing with translating those in silico outputs to actual chemical procedures so they can synthesize the corresponding functionalized nanoparticles. Our microfluidics group is designing a set of next generation tumour-on-a-chip devices that integrates tissue culture, flow control, nutrient supply and waste removal functions. Finally, our clinical group is working on designing appropriate targeting strategies for tracking circulating tumour cells (CSC) in vivo.

The challenge of EVO-NANO in the future (which I am really excited about) will be to integrate all these elements into a unified pipeline which goes from AI-powered artificial evolution of novel NP-based drug delivery systems, to their synthesis, rapid in vitro testing and finally in vivo validation. I imagine it as building Lego bricks now, that we will assemble into exciting structures in the second phase of the project. By succeeding in that, I believe that within EVO-NANO we will create new foundations for rapid development and assessment of new anti-cancer treatments. It will help pharmaceutical companies to tailor novel treatments and reach patients much faster and with much lower costs.