Making Serbia a magnet for biomedical research

Strengthening of the MagBioVin Research and Innovation Team for Development of Novel Approaches for Tumour Therapy based on Nanostructured Materials

Results in Brief:

Magnetic nanoparticles (MNPs) are receiving increasing interest in biomedical applications such as anti-tumour therapy. An EU project helped strengthen the MNP-based research capacity of the University of Belgrade in Serbia, laying the foundation for excellence in the field.
MNPs can spontaneously accumulate or specifically target the tumour, sparing healthy tissue. Upon exposure to an oscillatory magnetic field, MNPs release heat (magnetic hyperthermia) while functionalisation with certain radionuclides or drugs offers an additional anti-tumour effect.

Supporting biomedical research infrastructure
The EU-funded MAGBIOVIN project offered important support to the Institute of Nuclear Sciences ‘Vinca’ at the University of Belgrade in Serbia to upgrade its MNP research capacity. As project coordinator Dr Bratislav Antic explains, “prior to MAGBIOVIN not only we lacked the infrastructure but also the EU-compatible legislation on MNP-related research. The project provided the necessary support for handling biomedical research projects, biological samples and experimental animals, as well as for problem solving.″

MAGBIOVIN brought the experimental facilities of the Vinca institute up to par with renowned EU research institutions and also arranged for cutting-edge personnel training in reputable EU research institutions. Importantly, it established a new Centre of Excellence and improved the organisation structure of the institute by employing an ERA Chair and several other team members (one PhD researcher, two Post Docs and a project manager) who remained in Vinca after completion of MAGBIOVIN to ensure continuation of research in the future.

Overall, partners established an applied biomedical research pipeline that covers the research needs from idea to in vivo tests in an environment that Dr Antic emphasises, “was initially almost exclusively focused on basic science.″ Special attention has also been paid to intellectual property management, which has been insufficiently exploited in the past by the Serbian research community.

Further activities of the project included the organisation of seven dedicated international workshops led by EU experts in the field, a conference and six extensive training programmes for project team members. Considerable effort also went towards improving the networking and mobility at the regional and European level, establishing international collaborations and communication with stakeholders.

Research activities
The experimental part of the MAGBIOVIN project focused on the development of MNPs for anti-cancer therapy. Researchers designed, prepared and characterised iron-oxide nanoparticles, and then coated them to improve their biocompatibility and pharmacokinetic properties.

Moreover, they radiolabelled MNPs with various radioisotopes for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. They then successfully evaluated the pharmacokinetics and potency of a combinatorial strategy employing magnetic hyperthermia and radionuclides therapy in animal models of cancer.

Future prospects
“Having in hand the equipment and techniques for production of high quality MNPs, their coating and radiolabelling, together with advanced models of human diseases like cancer, has helped us build a firm base for future research,″ states Dr Antic. Future plans include the development of anti-cancer therapies based on MNP-mediated drug targeting as well as immune system modulation with the use of vaccines. In addition, the institute endeavours to develop MNP-based electrochemical detectors of cancer cells or metabolites for early cancer detection.

Collectively, MAGBIOVIN has helped set the foundation for enhanced research capacity at the Vinca institute, rendering it competitive with other leading EU research institutions. The development of highly active anti-cancer drugs and technologies for cancer diagnosis is also expected to attract future EC and investor funds as well as strengthen the presence of local pharmaceutical companies in the field of theranostics.

MAGBIOVIN, magnetic nanoparticle (MNP), biomedical research, Serbia, anti-cancer, model, radiolabel, magnetic hyperthermia, Vinca Institute, pharmacokinetic, coating, radioisotope

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