Danish professor joins five-year EU project
Jorn Bolstad Christensen says we should have a therapy that will detect and eliminate plaque in about five years
A Danish professor is developing a way to target and remove blood clots by illuminating a newly developed drug with infrared light.
University of Copenhagen chemist, Jørn Bolstad Christensen, as part of an international team, has been tasked with targeting and removing cholesterol plaque, and has high expectations for the project’s outcome.
‘If everything goes as planned, it should only be about five years before we have a therapy that can both detect and eliminate dangerous plaque. We hope to be engaged in preliminary human trials when these five years are up,’ says Christensen.
Christensen, an Associate Professor at the University’s Department of Chemistry, will develop a key component of the drug in a collaborative research project that involves 19 companies and universities throughout Europe. The five-year project is funded with €8m (DKK60m) from the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7).
Removing plaque is very difficult, in part because it is found inside blood vessels, but also because it comes in two forms – one benign and the other harmful. Christensen is therefore developing a bi-functional nano-molecule that will seek and then destroy harmful plaque – a ‘chemical Twix bar’ of sorts.
If everything goes as planned, it should only be about five years before we have a therapy that can both detect and eliminate dangerous plaque
One part of the molecule will differentiate between dangerous and harmless plaque and make sure that the entire molecule adheres only to the dangerous deposits. The other will consist of a dye, which will serve to catalyse a chemical breakdown, or oxidisation, when illuminated by infrared light.
Other research groups are developing the recognition and the dyeing components. Christensen and his team are developing a molecule able to combine both functions in a single structure.
Coupling functions sounds like the simple part of the task, but it will be quite a feat. Christensen says it is so difficult that three other research groups are competing to develop the appropriate molecule.
‘The best solution will move ahead in the process and even if it isn’t us, we will have still gotten something out of the research involved,’ he said.
To be effective, the molecular bits that carry out the work must be precisely placed in both angle and location. Few molecular types are able to accommodate such an accurate ‘tool’, except for dendrimers, the bush-shaped molecules that are particularly challenging to work with.
We happen to have cracked the code in synthesising dendrimers equipped with precise characteristics
‘Most groups interested in this area are not pure synthetic chemists. We happen to have cracked the code in synthesising dendrimers equipped with precise characteristics,’ said Christensen.
Blood clots are usually treated using a combination of anticoagulants, vasodilators and surgical procedures such as angioplasty. The new therapy will be a better-targeted and more cautious treatment because it seeks harmful plaques and breaks them down one molecule at a time, thus avoiding unintentional damage elsewhere in the body.
The EU project is called ‘Novel nanotechnology-enabled system for endovascular in vivo near-infrared fluorescence molecular imaging and endovascular near-infrared targeted photodynamic therapy of atherosclerotic heart disease.’ Colloquially, the study is referred to as CosmoPHOSnano.
Besides chemists, the international consortium includes molecular biologists, toxicologists, cardiologists, medical imagery specialists, and specialists in both animal and human trials.