Research Projects

SusFood

​​Target-specific Gastro-intestinal Delivery of Nano-Nutraceuticals and Nano-modulating Systems for Reducing Absorption of Unwanted Substances – A Sustainable Approach

The focus on alternative therapeutic strategies to maximize patient recovery is on the rise. Nutraceuticals are one of the key candidates currently explored as alternative or adjunctive therapy, whether t​o overcome the side effects or to act in synergy with drugs. Unfortunately, being of plant origin, most nutraceuticals are labile compounds, and suffer from the disadvantage of bioactivity loss. 

The emphasis of this project therefore lies in the use of a targeted food-based nano-carrier for the ‘protected’ nutraceuticals to exert their action at the intended site. In order to materialize this approach to maximum efficiency, the oral route would be best suited, owing to the ease of administration to the patient as a supplement or food additive. Although many intelligent design strategies have been incorporated into developing carriers as delivery systems, the successful delivery of nutraceuticals to specific parts of the gastro-intestinal tract (GIT), to increase bioavailability and enhance efficacy, is still a challenge. 

Commercially available enteric coatings cannot be applied at the nano-scale, and are also not suitable for food-based applications. ​Hence, developing a food-grade, targeted, nutraceutical-encapsulated nano-carrier would be a combinatorial approach to fill the gap in this unmet area. Another focus within this project is in designing an ingested nanoplatform to reduce GIT absorption of specific dietary substances (e.g. fat) or toxins.  

With a far-reaching aim of making nanotechnology-based nutraceutical products available commercially, this project also aims to evaluate the public perception of such products in the market. The environmental, health and safety of these novel products will also be assessed as part of product development using state-of-the-art in-vitro and in-vivo approaches, inclusive of toxicological and microbiome assessments.

AgriChem

Nano-encapsulation of Agrichemicals for Sustainable Agriculture

With rapid population growth and increased environmental stresses (i.e., drought, extreme temperature fluctuations), it is a societal challenge to meet the increasing global demand on food in the 21st century. Massive systems-level inefficiencies across the “farm-to-fork” continuum currently exist in agri-food systems, jeopardizing food security, safety and quality. These include inefficient delivery of agrichemicals   for food production (fertilizers and pesticides), leading to wasted energy and water, as well as negative impact on environmental health.  Therefore, new and innovative techniques for more efficient, targeted and precision agrichemical delivery are eagerly needed to ensure sustainable food production while minimizing environmental impact.

This multidisciplinary project combines materials science, nanosafety, analytical chemistry and plant biology in order to develop nano-encapsulates from renewable and sustainable resources, which can be mass produced at low cost with minimal environmental impact. It aims to utilize readily available natural and biodegradable polymers as well as new effective synthesis strategies to realize the nano-encapsulated agrichemicals. The team also focuses developing nano-carriers for targeted, “smart” release of chemicals in agriculture applications. The project is a foundational component of a larger effort focused on developing nanotechnology for sustainable agriculture, food security and safety. ​

SusPack

​Development of sustainable, biodegradable packaging materials for enhancing safety and quality of food

Food spoilage is a major issue and leads to disruption of health, well-being, economy and work productivity. In addition, food waste which accounts for 30-50% of the food supply across the value chain has become a major societal challenge with serious economic and environmental consequences. Food safety and quality can be compromised across the “farm to the fork continuum”. Food storage and packaging is a critical control point (CCP) that plays an important role on shelf life and food safety.

Global trends and consumer perceptions demand a biodegradable, sustainable food packaging system to protect or reduce the physical and nutrition damage during transportation storage, and retail, enhance food safety, security and minimize food waste.

This interdisciplinary project focuses on the development of nanotechnology based smart food packaging (SFP) materials, capable of improving food safety and quality and minimizing food waste, using novel scalable synthesis and processing methods of nature derived biopolymers and antimicrobials. The project also explores the passive and active release of antimicrobial ingredients using environmental triggers, in addition to developing biodegradable bacterial sensing films.

NanoMicrobiome

Novel Methods for Assessing Nano-Microbiome Interactions of Ingested Engineered Nanomaterials: Towards Safer-by-Design, Biocompatible Nanomaterials in Food Applications from the Gut Microbial Perspective

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is colonized by a complex and heterogeneous ecosystem of microorganisms— the gut microbiota, which plays a critical role in human health. A large number of recent studies suggest that gut microbial compositions and activities are responsive to environmental and dietary conditions.

Application of nanomaterials in the food industry may potentially modulate gut microbial communities and activities, with further potential adverse or beneficial effects on human health. Furthermore, the gut microbiome acts as a pool of enzymes in GI tract, which react with nutrients, drugs and environmental chemicals. The biotransformation of those chemicals by gut microbiome has raised global concern that the transformed metabolites may have biological effects different from parent compounds. In order to enable meaningful risk assessment, a thorough evaluation of the interaction between these chemicals and the gut microbiome, as well as an evaluation of the direct toxic effects of these chemicals on the host, is needed. In addition, the interactions between NPs and the gut microbiome have rarely been documented, and downstream effects on the host remain unclear. This project aims to develop an integrated methodology for systematically investigating the effects of ingested engineered nanomaterials (iENMs) on the gut microbiome. This integrated methodology will enable future research to provide key information on NPs risk assessment and guidance for development of safer by design and beneficial NPs for food applications.​​

SUNPrint

Nanomaterials Released from Printing Equipment: A case study of potential environmental health and safety implications across the life cycle of nano-enabled products

Toner-based printing equipment (TPE), such as laser printers and photocopiers, utilize several engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) to improve toner performance. Incidentally, the high levels of nanoparticles emissions of these TPE, especially the nanoscale fraction, have complex physicochemical and morphological composition. Previous studies on cells & animals have shown evidence of potential disease in humans. Consistent patterns of cellular injury, inflammation, oxidative stress, and epigenetic modifications have been documented in experimental models at doses relevant to occupational exposures. This project works to develop a methodical risk assessment based on “real world” exposures rather than on the toner particles alone to provide the much-needed data to establish protective regulatory guidelines for TPE emissions at both the occupational and consumer level, using industry-wide molecular epidemiology and mechanistic studies to understand nano-bio interactions relevant to TPE-emitted particles.  It also aims to develop exposure control technologies and safer-by-design approaches to minimize EHS implications from nano-enabled toners.

​NanoAdaptation

Elucidating the Adaptive Response of Human Respiratory Cells to Printer – Emitted Nanoparticles

Nano-sized printer emitted nanoparticles (nano-PEPs) are becoming one of the most prevalent engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) that have entered the consumer electronic goods stream. Every day, millions of home and office printer users worldwide are unintentionally exposed to airborne nano-PEPs during printing. Nano-PEPs are chemically complex and contain numerous oxidizing agents such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and inorganic elements such as Zn, Ti, Ni, among others. The question remains whether sub-chronic exposure to nano-PEPs, even at non-cytotoxic levels, may lead to respiratory health implications.

This multidisciplinary project works to understand the physiological adaptation of human respiratory cells to nano-PEPs, and to develop cutting edge nano-toxicological research methods to examine the mechanistic basis of nano-adaptive response. It also aims to provide critical novel insights contribute to our understanding of structure-property hazard (SPH) relationship of nano-toxicants and will also provide the basis to explain why certain populations may be more (or less) susceptible to engineered nanoparticles beyond nano-PEPs.​​