In the new episode of the podcast “Pod mikroskopom” dr. sc. Ivana Vinković Vrček talks about the development and application of nanotechnology in diagnosis and medicines and about the benefits and risks of their use.
The podcast, organized by the Student Union of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Biochemistry, University of Zagreb and the Association of Students of Pharmacy and Medical Biochemistry of Croatia, can be listened to at the following links:
On behalf of the scientific and organizational committee, we are pleased to invite you to the symposium “Synergy at the interface of chemistry and nanotechnology” which will be held on May 26th, starting at 9:00 a.m. at the Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Health in Zagreb (Ksaverska cesta 2).
The meeting is organized by the research group of the project “Safe approach for the development of nano-systems for the targeted delivery of drugs to the brain – SENDER” financed under the “Scientific Cooperation” Program implemented by the Croatian Science Foundation through the funds of the European Social Fund (led by Dr. Ivana Vinković Vrček ). The meeting is organized in cooperation with the Croatian Chemical Society and the Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Health.
The aim of this interdisciplinary meeting is to present and connect research groups dealing with topics in the field of nanotechnology, and to establish cooperation between different institutions and exchange experiences.
Young researchers will have the opportunity to present their research or the research of their groups in the form of a presentation, the expected duration of which is 10 minutes. The symposium will be held in English, so we ask all those interested to send their abstracts in English by May 19, 2023 at 12:00 to the email addresses email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please forward this notice to anyone who may be interested.
Ivana Vinković Vrček, consultant at the Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Health about the problem of exposure of the human body to complex mixtures of different chemicals, toxins, materials and micro and nanoplastic particles, but also about the great success of her team in the design of nanoformulation of drugs for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.
Ivana Vinković Vrček, scientific advisor at the Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Health in Zagreb, is a pioneer in research into the safety assessment of new materials and nanomaterials in Croatia. Her research work on the development of new approaches to regulatory-oriented testing of the effectiveness and safety of chemicals and materials enabled her to play a leading role in projects funded by the European programs Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe.
She is an extremely active mentor to young scientists, so she currently supervises nine doctoral students and three postdoctoral students, and her exceptional success in managing projects and mentoring doctoral theses is also visible through publication in renowned journals and the engagement of young researchers. Ivana participates as a volunteer in the work of expert councils and commissions – Thematic Innovation Council for Health and Quality of Life and the Program Committee for Nanotechnology of the European Food Safety Agency.
Climate change caused by pollution and the filling of our planet with plastic are among the most current topics today. The fact is that only a very small percentage of plastic can be recycled, so we will never actually be able to get rid of it. But it turns out that the fact that it is around us is a smaller problem, and the fact that she has become a part of us is much bigger. What do we inhale, what do we drink, what do we eat, that is, what do we put into the body and what poses the greatest danger?
The exposure of a person during his life is an extremely demanding problem from the aspect of risk assessment, because we are exposed to complex mixtures of different chemicals, toxins, materials, including, among others, particles of micro and nanoplastics. Therefore, one of the main goals of the European Union (EU) strategy for a sustainable climate-neutral and circular economy is to protect human health and the environment by addressing pollution from all sources, as stated by the European Green Deal program.
Current EU legislation does not provide a comprehensive and integrated risk assessment of the combined effects of different chemicals and materials taking into account different routes of exposure, while the regulatory requirements for mixtures have not changed significantly since 2012 despite being a research priority since 2001.
The problem is further compounded by plastic all around us. Plastic is a central material for modern life because it is a multi-purpose, resistant, easy to process and affordable material. Despite this, its use has become a problem due to the increasing pollution of the environment with plastic. In addition, plastic in the environment is subject to slow photo-, chemical, physical and biological degradation and fragmentation into micro- and nano-particles.
Chronic human exposure to plastic is already a health problem – from nanoplastics in cosmetics and synthetic fibers in clothing to plastic particles in water and air. We interact with plastic without fully understanding what it means for our planet, much less for our own bodies. Understanding plastics, their additives and how they interact with our bodies is now more critical than ever. Analysis of human feces has shown that micro-sized plastic particles can be excreted through the gastrointestinal tract.
Plastic particles have also been detected in human colectomy samples, human blood and human placental tissue. Considering the specific physico-chemical properties and reactivity of materials on the nanoscale, plastic micro/nanoparticles can adsorb and accumulate toxic chemicals from the environment, acting as a “Trojan horse” for hazardous substances, thus further complicating the risk assessment that needs to take into account the effects, action and toxicity of complex, complex mixtures.
With the aim of minimizing the possible harmful effect of economic activities on the ecosystem, the EU has launched a series of plans and programs, including the 8th Environment Action Programme, the Circular Economy Action Plan, the EU Strategic Approach to Pharmaceuticals in the Environment, the EU Strategy on Chemicals for sustainability towards a toxin-free environment, the Resolution towards an EU Comprehensive Framework on Endocrine Disruptors (2019/2683(RSP)), the Commission’s Communication on Endocrine Disruptors and the Biodiversity Strategy.
If the environment is so contaminated with microplastics and nanoplastics and the composition of the land, air and water has changed so much, is it even possible to grow an animal somewhere in the world or produce food that is ecological, 100 percent clean and healthy?
This is a difficult question and it is not possible to give a simple and unequivocal answer. However, it should be taken into account that every human activity, both in the past and now, is also the cause of public health problems.
For example, cooking food on open fires in the past represented an extreme danger to human health, despite the fact that food may have been richer in macronutrients and micronutrients. Since the problem today is the excessive production of exhaust gases on the roads, it should be taken into account that the former heating with fossil fuels also polluted the atmosphere, that is, the air we breathe.
I would say that it is not possible to live in a health-free environment, because every development of the economy and the implementation of human activities implies changing the environment and the conditions in which we live.
However, the key question is what and what the cost of development is. Therefore, the main idea of the European strategy on chemicals for sustainability towards a toxin-free environment is to promote sustainable development that includes concern for human health. It should be kept in mind that everyday human activities should also be modified in the direction of sustainability.
Therefore, EU legislation is moving in the direction of banning the use of single-use plastic products. For example, it is completely unsustainable to buy coffee in a disposable plastic cup, mix it with a disposable plastic spoon and then, after drinking the coffee, throw it all in the trash.
At the same time, it should be noted that a huge amount of such waste really ends up in a landfill, and does not go through the circular economy. I am afraid that the problems with plastic will not be solved without legislative decrees and bans. By nature, people are prone to conformism and comfortable behavior. Thus, most people would rather buy a drink in a single-use plastic packaging, which they will throw away after consuming the drink, than to buy the same drink in a returnable glass packaging.
How does all this ultimately affect the human body? And what do we pass on to new generations?
The problem with plastic escalated precisely because of the lack of restrictions, regulations and neglect of the fact that people are comfortable and lazy by nature. The price will be paid by the new generations, and the problem is already evident in the increase in the incidence of diseases and disease states that we did not know before, such as autoimmune diseases and infertility.
American scientist Dr. Shanna Swan (professor of ecology and public health at one of the most prestigious American medical schools, the Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai, New York) claims that this especially affects our ability to reproduce. Her terrifying research shows that in the past 70 years, since the increased production of plastic and PVC, the number of sperm in men has drastically decreased, and if it continues to decrease at the same pace until 2050, that number will be zero! Further, in the American Center for Disease Control, she came across research that found high levels of phthalates in the urine of pregnant women and reduced levels of testosterone in the male children they gave birth to. What is your view of the future, will plastic really exterminate us in the end?
Again, I have to admit that it is difficult for me to give a simple answer to that question. All the information you provided is correct. My research group is also intensively dealing with the problem of human exposure to complex mixtures with nanoplastics that can have a negative effect on our endocrine system.
For example, we discovered that non-toxic concentrations of drugs, preservatives and additives are very toxic and disturb the hormonal balance when human cells are exposed to mixtures of these non-toxic concentrations, and especially when nanoplastics are introduced into the mixture. This actually means that the paradigm of classical toxicology is completely changing and that it is no longer reasonable to examine the effects of a single chemical or material, but it is necessary to apply a holistic approach and investigate the effects of complex mixtures.
And what now? Can we change anything anymore? How much sense do all these green and sustainable policies that governments and all big business players who care about reputation and consumers have? And what influence can we as individuals have?
All the research and all the ingenious scientific results are completely useless if man himself does not change his behavior. If each individual does not stop behaving unreasonably and, dare I say it, arrogantly. For example, why is it necessary to change the wardrobe every year, why do we have to buy products packed in 5 types of packaging, why is it necessary to change the car every 5 years, why is it necessary to go to work by private car and not by public transport or, if at all possible, by bike or on foot… I can go on and on. Our behavior must be reasonable at every level and in every occasion, both at home, in the workplace and on the street. Considering that it is difficult to expect that people will radically change their behavior patterns on their own, this should be imposed on them not only by decrees, laws and prohibitions, but the state apparatus should also engage experts in shaping public opinion who would design and organize actions and promotions of the so-called conscientious and socially responsible behavior.
What is your research group currently working on?
I lead an exceptional multidisciplinary research team in which young, talented people of different profiles work, from chemists, chemical technologists, biologists, biochemists, pharmacists and all the way to doctors.
We are currently active on 4 large projects in the field of nanomedicine and risk assessment, which are financed as part of the Horizon program of the European Union and the European Social Fund.
One of our biggest current achievements is the success of our idea to design nanoformulation drugs for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.
The results of our research showed that design based on biogenic components is more effective and represents a real innovation.
The scientific conference Nano2Clinic – Synergies for Clinical Translation of Nanotechnology in Cancer Therapies was held on March 3 in the Great Hall of Školska knjiga in Zagreb. The event was organized under Nano2Clinic: Cost Action CA17140 – Cancer nanomedicine – from the bench to the bedside. With the support of ‘’Pharmaceutical Open Innovation Test Bed for Enabling Nano-pharmaceutical Innovative Products’’ – PHOENIX (funded by European Union Horizon 2020 Programme under grant agreement nº 953110) and ‘’Safe-by-Design Approach for Development of Nano-Enabled Delivery Systems to Target the Brain’’ – SENDER (funded by the European Social Fund).
The local organizer of the meeting was the Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Health in Zagreb under the leadership of Ivana Vinković Vrček, while additional support was provided by seven sponsors (Biovit, AlphaChrom, Croatian Tourist Board, City of Zagreb, Yasenka, Medic, Gorea Plus). The scientific program of the lectures focused mainly on three factors discussed by the participants: safety aspects, regulatory aspects and aspects of training and education for a well-qualified workforce and patients. The event was attended by 47 participants from as many as 15 countries.
The meeting was officially opened by the main organizer Ivana Vinković Vrček, after which the deputy director Irena Brčić Karačonji gave a few words on behalf of the Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Health. Afterwards, Ivica Malnar from HALMED, the agency for medicinal products and medical devices, gave an introductory lecture on the Croatian market and regulations.
After the introductory greetings and lectures, presentations on the goals and successes of the Nano2Clinic and Phoenix projects followed by the lecturers: Sabrina Pricl, University of Trieste, CA17140 Chair; Cost Action CA17140 Nano2Clinic achievements and lecturers: Nazende Günday-Türeli, MyBiotech GmbH, PHOENIX-OITB Coordinator; PHOENIX-OITB project presentation.
Then, in the second part, the topic of discussion was best practice, where presentations were given by lecturers: Elisabet Gonzales, Institut de Ciència de Materials de Barcelona (CSIC)-CIBER-BBN; Best practice: Clinical translation of orphan nanodrug, and lecturer: Marija Plodinec, CEO ARTIDIS; Best practice: Nanotool for cancer diagnostics.
In the third section of the meeting, there were three presentations on the importance of regulations by the lecturers: Jon de Vlieger, Strategy Director at Foundation Ligature; International regulatory advances for Nanomedicines and their follow-ons, lecturer: Mike Isles, Executive Director, The European Alliance for Access to Safe Medicines; The importance of having the right policies and regulations in place to ensure patient safety – the case for nanomedicines, lecturer: Marco Giardiello, University of Liverpool, British Society for Nanomedicine; Novel Approaches to Theranostic Nanomedicine Design.
Lastly, the final three presentations on risk assessments of nanomedicines were held by the lecturers: Ulf Kahlert, Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg, Faculty of Medicine; Target efficacy vs. Off-target risk of nanodrugs: Lessons learned from individualization of chemotherapies using co-clinical organoid test system, lecturer: Blanca Suarez Merino, Regulatory Affairs Director, Nanotechnology Industries Association NIA; Regulatory aspects of clinical translation of nano-enabled products, lecturer: Maria Dusinska, RiskGone Project Coordinator, Norwegian Institute for Air Research – NILU; Risk Assessment in Nanomedicine.
The presentations were followed with great attention by the participants, and each lecture was followed by a rich discussion. The ceremonial closing of the meeting was enriched by the Ethno Club Zagreb, where the dancers through song and dance, presented Croatian cultural heritage, thus brightening everyone’s mood.
This meeting aimed to strengthen relationships between industry, the R&D&I sector, regulatory agencies, clinics, and patients with the ultimate goal of fostering the clinical transfer of nanomedicine from table to bedside. By promoting scientific exchange, technological implementation, and innovative solutions, the meeting enabled a dialogue to rationalize and focus EU-level research efforts in the face of the great challenge of translating nanomedicine for cancer therapies.
On that occasion, IMI scientists gave two expert lectures to the gathered students, external collaborators and teachers of the University under the titles:
Nanotechnology in modern medicine (Dr Ivana Vinković Vrček)
The importance of communication skills in science (Dr Sanja Stipičević).
The participants of the event were presented with the new research capacities of IMI and current international projects on the application of in vivo and in vitro methods for assessing the safety and effectiveness of nanomedicines. Through several examples of public health communication campaigns, the need to strengthen communication between scientists and society was emphasized.
We would like to thank the University for the invitation and warm friendship.
Školska knjiga – The Great Hall, Masarykova Street 28
Nanotechnologies fundamentally change the current therapies and enable development of novel treatments and diagnostic approaches. The improvements in medical therapies and diagnostic achieved through innovative medical nanoproducts has a great and direct clinical importance and provide benefits for the patients. Hence, best practices in design and development of such nanoproducts will contribute to societal prosperity and welfare, by providing access to better and safer treatments.
This meeting aims to strengthen relations between industry, R&D&I sector, regulatory agencies, clinics, and patients with the ultimate goal of fostering the clinical translation of nanomedicine from bench to bedside. By promoting scientific exchanges, technological implementation and innovative solutions, the meeting will enable dialogue for rationalizing and focusing research efforts at the EU level in dealing with the grand challenge of nanomedicine translation for cancer therapies.
The meeting will focus on several factors that need to be discussed and considered in order to achieve the best societal impact:
1) Safety aspects: by discussing the best practices for the application of the Safe-by-Design concept during early stages of development and production of novel medical nanoproducts.
2) Regulatory aspects: by discussing necessary steps for regulatory acceptance of novel nanoproducts.
3) Training and education aspects for a solid skilled workforce and patients: by facilitating and expanding cross-disciplinary training for researchers, medical care providers, public health professionals working in industry, government, and academia, as well as for patients.
Participation is free of charge. If you would like to register, sign up with the link down below until the 20th of February 2023.
Organizer: NANO2CLINIC: Cost Action CA17140 – Cancer nanomedicine – from the bench to the bedside
Supported by: PHOENIX-OITB: Pharmaceutical Open Innovation Test Bed for Enabling Nano-pharmaceutical Innovative Products
SENDER: Safe-by-Design Approach for Development of Nano-Enabled Delivery Systems to Target the Brain
Local organizer: Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Health, Zagreb, Croatia
The PHOENIX-OITB project receives funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 953110. COST Action CA 17140 “Cancer Nanomedicine from the Bench to the Bedside” is supported by COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology). SENDER Safe-by-Design Approach for Development of Nano-Enabled-Delivery Systems to Target the Brain is a project financed within the “Research Cooperability” Program of the Croatian Science Foundation funded from the European Social Fund.
The Horizon Europe project NABIHEAL, coordinated by the Center for Biomedical Research Network (CIBER) at the Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB-CSIC), was launched on 11-12 January 2023 in Barcelona with the first meeting of the international consortium, formed by 14 partners from 7 countries, including research centers, universities, and private companies.
NABIHEAL stands for “Antimicrobial Nanostructured Biomaterials for Complex Wound Healing” and is funded under the Horizon Europe Research and Innovation programme with a total budget of nearly 5 million euros over four years. NABIHEAL aims at solving two unmet medical needs in complex wound healing: on the one hand, affordable treatments for wound infections and prevention of complications during wound healing, and on the other, a strategy to optimize the composition and efficacy of wound dressings.
The kickoff meeting, held at the CSIC Researcher’s Residence in Barcelona, was opened by the project coordinator, Nora Ventosa, from CIBER and ICMAB-CSIC, and by institutional and political representatives, including Riccardo Rurali, Vice-Director of ICMAB-CSIC; Ramon Martínez Mañez, Scientific Director of CIBER-BBN; Jordi Aguasca, Director of Technological Transformation and Disruption Unit, ACCIÓ; and Xavier Aldeguer, General Director of Society of Knowledge, Transfer & Territory of the Catalan Government. The meeting provided the opportunity to interact in person with all the consortium partners and establish the first collaborative activities to ensure timely delivery of the project milestones.
Complex wound healing as a global health problem
The NABIHEAL project will advance on the synthesis of advanced nanostructured biomaterials as an alternative to the commonly used silver-based materials. “The project will work to produce multifunctional materials for the treatment of complex wound healing, which has become a global health problem. For example, in developed countries, it affects the quality of life of more than 2% of the total population,” affirms Nora Ventosa, coordinator of the project.
Complex wounds, such as chronic wounds, are highly susceptible to microbial infection and biofilm formation, and thus difficult to treat. The most common antimicrobial products to treat these infections are based on silver. However, they have several economic, environmental and safety drawbacks. The biomaterials developed within the NABIHEAL project will offer a safer, more sustainable and more cost-effective alternative.
The project aims to obtain innovative multifunctional wound healing biomaterials using affordable EU-based manufacturing technologies. In the long term, NABIHEAL could become a game-changing alternative to silver in wound healing dressings.
An International Consortium
The goals of the project will be tackled by an interdisciplinary consortium from 7 countries, combining expertise in different areas, such as synthesis and characterization of biomaterials, biocompatibility and safety, regulatory aspects and ethics, or wound healing product development and scale-up. “We are excited to launch this project, in which 8 academic institutions and 6 private companies will join forces to face the challenging problem of complex wound treatment,” adds Prof. Ventosa.
In addition to the Center for Biomedical Research Network (CIBER) at the Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB), as coordinator, the international consortium is formed by the following centers and companies: from Spain, the Center for Biomedical Research Network (CIBER) at the University of Extremadura and the University of Cantabria, the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), Nanomol Technologies S.L. (NT), Bioiberica S.A.U (BIO), Histocell S.L (HCELL), the University of Granada (UGR), and Asphalion (ASPH); from Germany, MyBiotech GmbH (MyB) and Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin (CH); from Croatia, the Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Health (IMI); from Denmark, the Aarhus University (AU); from Israel, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (IT); from Austria, BioNanoNet Forschungsgesellschaft mbH (BNN); and from Slovenia, the University of Maribor (UM).
Doctoral student Nikolina Kalčec and dr.sc. Ivan Pavičić are currently staying at the Bio21 Institute in Melbourne, Australia as part of a joint project called “Safe approach for the development of nano-systems for the targeted delivery of drugs to the brain – SENDER” headed by dr.sc. Ivana Vinković Vrček and co-leader prof. emer. Frances Separovic. The project was financed within the framework of the Cooperation Program with Croatian scientists in the diaspora “Scientific Cooperation” implemented by the Croatian Science Foundation. During their two months of visiting at the Bio21 Institute, under the guidance of prof. emer. Frances Separovic and dr.sc. Marc-Antoine Sania, doctoral student Kalčec and dr.sc. Pavičić, will learn about techniques such as solid-state NMR spectroscopy, isothermal titration calorimetry and circular dichroism. Using these devices, they will monitor the interactions of differently functionalized gold and selenium nanoparticles with lipids present in the blood-brain barrier. These experiments will provide information about the complex events that take place at the nano-bio interface and help clarify the passage of nanoparticles through the blood-brain barrier. The researcher’s stay at the collaborating institution will be of great importance for the successful implementation of the SENDER project, and we hope that the obtained results will enable joint publication and continued cooperation.
Prof. Frances Separovic, co-leader of SENDER and Foreign Secretary at The Australian Academy of Science hosted the ShineDome22 Gala Dinner event at the Australian Parliament House with Lyn Beazley. At the event, Australian minister Ed Husic MP presented The Australian Academy of Science awards.
The NanoBioFaces research group presented the European project “Pharmaceutical Open Innovation Test Bed for Enabling Nano-pharmaceutical Innovative Products – PHOENIX” at the 10th Symposium of Pharmacy and Medical Biochemistry Students (FARMEBS 2022) on Saturday, October 22, 2022 at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Biochemistry.
NanoBioFaces group from the Institute for Medical Research and Occupational Health, headed by Dr. sc. Ivana Vinković Vrček, leads the “Regulatory Support” Work Package in the Phoenix project, and participates in the development and application of in vivo and in vitro methods for assessing the safety and effectiveness of nanomedicines. During the workshop, Dr. sc. Ivana Vinković Vrček and her colleagues presented the project itself in more detail, as well as the activities and methods that are developed and used as part of the research work of the group.
Where it was presented that PHOENIX, a project financed from the Horizon 2020 program, has as its ultimate goal to offer the market a united network of companies and laboratories that, with their expertise in research, development, production and regulatory activities in the field of nanomedicine, will facilitate the development of nanomedicine formulations from laboratory to preclinical and production processes. During the 4 years of the project, 12 partner institutions from 6 European countries will upgrade their existing laboratories and production facilities, build new ones, and provide services through the so-called “single-entry point” approach. The services will cover design, development, preclinical testing, scale-up development, GMP production and regulatory support for all phases of nanomedicine development.