The Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ), a BIST centre, is part of the Light4Lungs project, which aims to create a new treatment that is both effective against bacterial infections – and their biofilms – and that doesn’t cause antimicrobial resistance.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a looming menace to global public health. Over 670,000 cases of infections with multidrug-resistant bacteria occurred in the EU in 2015, causing about 33,000 deaths. AMR is threatening humanity’s capacity to treat infectious diseases, making it imperative to find alternative therapies to antibiotics. To help solve this problem, the Light4Lungs project has been launched.
Led by Prof. Santi Nonell of the IQS School of Engineering, Light4Lungs brings together eight European partners including the Palomares Research Group at ICIQ, a BIST centre. With a budget of € 3, 493, 625, this European Commission FET Open project will develop an alternative therapeutic scheme for the treatment of multidrug-resistant lung bacterial infections such as cystic fibrosis, MSRA or hospital-acquired lung infections. During the four-year project, scientists will create a novel inhalable photodynamic therapy (PDT) by using non-intrusive light-emitting technology – delivered directly to the infected area – that through a chain reaction will selectively kill lung-infecting bacteria.
“The project moves closer to the real applications of nanomaterials for healthcare, so called nanomedicine,” explains ICIQ group leader and ICREA Prof. Emilio Palomares.
Light4Lungs sets out to treat bacterial infections with a breathable light source, avoiding externally added drugs – such as antibiotics – as well as the use of invasive physical treatments. The novel strategy is based on inhalable aerosol particles containing molecules with persistent luminescence that will activate endogenous bacterial photosensitizing molecules (particularly porphyrins) in the infected region of the lungs, producing reactive oxygen species that will selectively kill the lung-infecting bacteria.
The project encompasses the development of particles with persistent luminescence, the aerosol technology for activation and delivery to the lungs, and the definition of the treatment parameters through toxicity and efficacy tests in clinically relevant models of respiratory infections. The results of the project have the potential to go beyond the treatment of recalcitrant respiratory tract bacterial infections to other lung diseases and organs, enriching fields of healthcare, nanomedicine, materials science, and nanotechnology.
Finding the Goldilocks of nanoparticles
The consortium combines all the relevant scientific expertise: from photonics to chemistry, physics, and medicine. One of the first milestones for the Light4Lungs project is finding the right particle to trigger the reaction that will ultimately help treat lung infections. To this end, ICIQ researchers from the Palomares group are bringing their nanoparticles expertise to the table.
In the initial phases of the project, the ICIQ researchers are exploring different types of particles for the consortium, in order to assess their potential. There are many variables to be considered: aside from being biocompatible molecules, the ideal candidate should be easily produced, economically viable, capable of being activated when needed and emitting, with persistent luminescence, on the right wavelength.
“We have some promising preliminary results,” observes María Méndez, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Palomares group. “We’re now optimizing the particles: from finding the right size to tweaking the light they emit by doping them with metals,” she explains.
“It’s a novel approach,” concludes Santi Gené, laboratory engineer from the Palomares group who is also working on the project. “This can be helpful for many diseases but especially for cystic fibrosis, which can’t be cured and so, it’s important to find new treatments to improve people’s quality of life.”
More information can be found on the ICIQ website.