Marianna Foldvari
Professor, Faculty of Science
> School of Pharmacy
> Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology (WIN)

What if gene therapy could not only treat age-related diseases but cure them altogether? It’s a lofty goal — but one that’s well within reach.

Marianna Foldvari, a professor in the Faculty of Science, is one of a handful of researchers worldwide focusing on non-invasive gene therapy and drug delivery, using nanotechnology to treat and cure neurodegenerative diseases such as glaucoma.

“A focus right now is to develop nano-sized transporters that can reach the back of the eye to improve vision, especially in the treatment of glaucoma,” Foldvari says.

Along with two of her PhD students, Foldvari has formed a company to develop these technologies. The safety and efficacy of the nano-formulations that will deliver the therapy are being assessed so they can work toward clinical trials.

Nanoparticles can target medicine to disease site

“Gene therapy is becoming a way where we might even be able to cure diseases, not just treat them,” she says. “Developing gene delivery carriers requires a lot of technological types of development, and this is where nanotechnology comes in. We are now able to develop very small particles outfitted with homing molecules that can deliver the cargo to specific sites. These very small particles can navigate between cells and get to places where older technologies couldn’t. We can also avoid side effects this way because we are very focused on the disease site.”

The impact of Foldvari’s research on healthy aging could be significant, especially given that there is no cure for glaucoma. Currently, glaucoma patients are treated through pharmacotherapy, laser treatment or surgery – interventions that focus on reducing intraocular pressure but not on protecting the retina or reversing eye damage. Gene therapy has the potential to protect the optic nerve and retina, meaning that vision loss doesn’t have to go hand-in-hand with aging.

Waterloo biotech research goes commercial

Foldvari’s team excels at translating research discoveries into clinical applications. In fact, many technologies developed in her lab have already resulted in patents and become startups – including PharmaDerm Laboratories Ltd. and Transparent Pharma Laboratories Inc. — or moved forward for commercial development.

Foldvari continues to be a leader in her field, with promising research that has attracted millions of dollars in grant funding. When she arrived at the University of Waterloo in 2006, her research and leadership capabilities were recognized with an appointment as Canada Research Chair in Bionanotechnology and Nanomedicine and as the University’s first Associate Director of Graduate Studies and Research.

Feature image credit:  TefiM/iStock/ThinkStock