IBEC’s newest group leader will advance drug delivery systems

IBEC gains a new group leader this month, with Prof. Silvia Muro joining the institute as an ICREA research professor to lead her Targeted Therapeutics and Nanodevices group.

In her new position, she will carry out research into macromolecular nano-assemblies which can be loaded with drugs to target the chronic conditions that affect our pediatric and ageing populations, such as neurodegenerative, cardiovascular or metabolic diseases, as well as cancer.

Prof. Muro spent the last nine years at the University of Maryland, first as an Assistant Professor and then as a tenured Associate Professor with a joint appointment in the Fischell Department of Bioengineering and the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research.

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There, she established a solid research program in the field of drug delivery, which she had initiated as a Research Assistant Professor in the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. Prior to this, she received her PhD in Sciences (Molecular Biology) from the University Autonoma of Madrid, after which she took up fellowships and postdoctoral appointments in medical, biomolecular, and drug targeting research in Spain, Canada, Denmark and the USA. She received the UMD Outstanding Life Sciences Invention of the Year award in 2011 and the Junior Faculty Outstanding Engineering Research award in 2012, and is a standing member of the NIH Nanotechnology (NANO) Study Section.

A main focus of her group at IBEC will be to understand the biological properties of these drug-carrying nanosystems, which influence how they are sensed and transported within the body, and how they interact with our tissues and cells. “Because of gaps in our knowledge about the biological parameters and pathways ruling the interaction and transport of drug carriers in the body, we haven’t yet been able to design devices that can effectively and specifically access diseased cells while leaving the healthy ones unharmed, or that can safely penetrate the blood-brain barrier,” explains Prof. Muro.

Her group will tackle this by taking a multidisciplinary approach aimed at reflecting the true biological variables encountered in the body. “We’ll use a battery of analytical tools, in silico predictions, cellular and animal models, and patient samples,” she says. “A better understanding of their biological properties will help us implement ‘biologically optimized’ drug carriers for syndromes which have neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, and metabolic components.”

Liaison with clinicians will be key, so IBEC is planning to establish a joint unit with Barcelona’s Hospital Sant Joan de Deu which will enable Prof. Muro to maintain a small laboratory space at the hospital premises and serve as an avenue for her to translate her research.

The activity of the new group is fully aligned with IBEC’s research strategy, which focuses its scientific and technological endeavours on applications in bioengineering for Future Medicine, Active Ageing, and Regenerative Therapies. It will boost the institute’s critical mass and leadership in the field of drug delivery, bringing it in line with the other two main fields of nanomedicine – diagnosis and regenerative medicine – for which IBEC is already internationally recognized.

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