Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology launches seed funding program

Monday, April 23, 2018

Seed funding Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology

This year, the Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology launched its first ever Seed Fund program in hopes of driving scientific innovation, growth, and opportunity through the support of collaborative research across UWaterloo's six faculties. Eleven Science researchers received funding for bioengineering and biotechnology research projects through the new program. 

Learn more about their projects.

Using ultrahigh resolution OCT to image in-vivo and quantify metrics in the posterior eye associated with myopia

Kostadinka Bizheva (Physics and Astronomy), Elizabeth Irving and Denise Hileeto (Optometry and Vision Science)

Myopia, commonly known as near-sightedness, has reached a higher than 90 per cent prevalence in some Asian populations and risen substantially in Western countries. Ex-vivo studies show that myopia causes thinning of the choroid, changes in the thickness and mechanical properties of the underlying sclera, and affects scleral fibroblasts density.

Bizheva and her team, propose that by using a Ultra High Resolution Optical Coherence Tomography they can non-invasively produce an image of the choroid and scleral fibroblasts and measure both the choroidal thickness and scleral fibroblasts density. Such measurements can help vision scientists to design custom contact lenses that can slow down the progression of myopia and in some cases prevent or reverse it.

The main goal of the pilot project is to determine if Ultra High Resolution Optical Coherence Tomography is capable of imaging in-vivo scleral fibroblasts and if the changes in the fibroblast density and the choroidal thickness can be measured from the UHR-OCT images. 

Proteolytic disruption of bacterial biofilms using natural enzyme biopolymers

Andrew DoxeyTodd Holyoak and Trevor Charles (Biology); Pu Chen (Chemical Engineering) and
Bin Ma (Computer Science)

Bacterial biofilms are associated with over 65 per cent of chronic bacterial infections and 80 per cent of healthcare acquired (nosocomial) infections. In order to effectively treat biofilm-related infections, we need to identify molecules and enzymes that are able to specifically degrade and disrupt biofilms such that they can be more easily targeted and penetrated by antibiotics.

There is enormous scientific interest and biotechnological potential in functionalized nanomaterials due to their promise in drug delivery and other therapeutic applications, but to date most of these nanomaterials have been synthetically designed. Through bacterial genome data mining, we recently discovered a new type of bacterial flagella with enzymatic activity that is present in over 200 bacterial species, which represents the largest enzymatic nanopolymer in nature.

In this proposal, Doxey and his team aim to collaborate with key investigators at UW to characterize the structure of flagellar enzyme nanopolymers, and study their anti-biofilm properties using shotgun mass-spectrometry.

In-vivo monitoring of gene and drug delivery in the eye with optical coherence tomography (OCT)

Marianna Foldvari (Pharmacy) and Kostadinka Bizheva (Physics and Astronomy)

Currently, clinical treatment of potentially blinding retinal diseases lack safe, effective and minimally invasive drug delivery methods. Recently, Foldvari’s research group has developed a non-viral gene delivery technology that was tested in vitro and in vivo in mouse models. In order to adapt this approach for in vivo gene therapy in the human eye, it is necessary to develop an imaging method that can track and map the gene delivery to the retina non-invasively and in real time.

The objective of this research is to evaluate the feasibility of UHR-OCT, combined with a fluorescence channel (UHR-OCT+FL), as an in-vivo, non-contact, real-time imaging method to monitor gene delivery and expression in the retina after topical and intravitreal administration of novel gene delivery system developed in our laboratory. If this technique can be proven to be sensitive enough and able to spatially and temporally track nanoparticle trafficking and gene expression in the eye, especially in the retina, we would have a powerful approach to screen nanoparticles and optimize gene delivery.

Development of a co-culture in vitro model of the ocular surface to investigate the inflammatory and immune response induced by ophthalmic drugs and biomaterials

Lyndon Jones (Optometry and Vision Science), Brian Dixon (Biology) and Maud Gorbet (Systems Design Engineering)

Due to the risk of infection and vision loss, the ocular surface and anterior eye remain one of the most complex systems from which to collect physiological information related to the biocompatibility and/or toxicity of ophthalmic drugs and devices. While in vitro cell models are recognized to be the first steps towards understanding mechanisms involved in cell response to drug and biomaterials, current in vitro models of the ocular surface have been limited to corneal epithelial cells that poorly mimic the dynamic environment of the anterior eye. Thus, there is a need to develop an in vitro model that can better mimic the ocular environment.

In this collaborative research project, an in vitro coculture model will be developed and used to investigate corneal and conjunctival epithelial cell response to two contact lens materials (a silicone hydrogel and a conventional hydrogel material) and to the presence of two preservatives used in ophthalmic solution.

Bioprinter and bioink formulation for the printing of authentic 3D colorectal tumor models

Shirley Tang (Chemistry) and Jonathan Blay (Pharmacy)

Colorectal cancer is the second most prevalent form of cancer in Canada with an estimated 26,800 new cases occurring in 2017. There is also an alarming increase in incidence in younger individuals. The newer targeted agents are costly and may only work in genetic subpopulations, so it is essential to tailor the therapeutic choice to the individual patient. Unfortunately, cancer cells alter its behaviour once removed from its environment such that existing ex vivo assessments of drug sensitivity cannot predict prognosis accurately.

This project aims to develop tools for the creation of authentic 3D colorectal tumor models and generate preliminary data. The printed tumor models can be potentially incorporated into the screening of therapeutics, which addresses the low fidelity of existing drug sensitivity ex vivo assessments in predicting prognosis.