A Microscopic Magic Bullet

University of Waterloo Professor Frank Gu on designing responsive nanotechnology.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

Nanotechnology proves that the next big thing can actually be very small. Frank Gu, a polymer engineer and professor at the University of Waterloo, is creating smart materials for applications ranging from drug delivery to environmental protection – all measured in nanometers, which are a million times smaller than the width of human hair.

Smart materials are designed to respond to their environment. These technologies might respond to electrical current, magnetic fields, pH (acidity), light, or temperature. They have the potential to sense water contaminants, extract natural resources like precious metals in more sustainable ways, and enhance medical imaging and disease treatment. These are all areas that scientists like Gu are tackling using nanotechnology.

What is even more exciting is that scientists are now starting to combine many smart behaviours in a single platform technology. As we look towards the future, Gu explains, “We are at a very exciting stage that not only can we build these materials, we can start to assemble these materials into more complex, more functional structures. Instead of performing one particular function, now we can perform multiple functions at a time… For medical applications, the physician can inject a specific dye into the body that can allow us to image and diagnose where the diseased cells are, and then we can perform treatment on the same spot. This is something that we wouldn’t be able to do right now, but it’s coming and it’s going to be an awesome product.”

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Prof. Frank Gu, is Canada Research Chair and Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Waterloo. He has established an interdisciplinary research program combining functional polymers and polymer-metal oxide hybrid materials to solve problems in medicine, agriculture and environmental protection. Prof. Gu received his Ph.D. from Queen’s University, Canada, where he majored in chemical engineering and was awarded with Canada Graduate Scholarship from Canadian Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). Following completion of his graduate program, he was awarded a NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship to purse his research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School. Under the co-supervisions of Institute Prof. Robert Langer and Prof. Omid Farokhzad, he developed novel nanofabrication technologies which were licensed to leading biotechnology companies including Bind Biosciences and Selecta Biosciences. In July 2008, Prof. Gu joined Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Waterloo as an Assistant Professor. In 2012, he was awarded Canada Research Chair to advance his research in the development of targeted delivery systems using nanotechnology. His expertise in the development of functional nanoparticles for targeted delivery has generated over 100 scientific publications in peer reviewed journals and conference proceedings, as well as 15 US and World patent applications.