A young researcher in the spotlight: Dr Albane Birault

I am a Research Engineer in Nano-formulation, working at the company OZ Biosciences in Marseille, France. I was recently awarded the second prize of the ISGS Thesis Award 2019 for my PhD research project entitled: “Hybrid Organic-Inorganic Silica Materials as Advanced Carriers for Finely Controlled Therapeutic Delivery” (with Drs Michel Wong Chi Man and Carole Carcel at Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Chimie de Montpellier and Professor John Bartlett at the University of the Sunshine Coast). My thesis project addressed the design of advanced organosilane-based nanomaterials for the autonomous delivery of drugs (e.g. chemotherapeutics). An indepth study of the supra-molecular chemistry on which these systems are based enabled the cargo encapsulation stability to be optimized, leading to smart nanodevices capable of on-demand release of the drugs, including direct delivery within cancer cells triggered by endogenous stimuli (e.g. pH, etc). Key features such as size, morphology (dense, mesoporous, hollow-spheres, core-shell, raspberry, multiple-layer, etc), and surface functionalisation of nanoparticles were assessed to achieve optimised nanocarrier that almost completely eradicated cancer cells under in vitro conditions. Future investigations in appropriate animal models are envisaged.

Thereafter, during my post-doctoral work at The Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Science at Kyoto University, I designed and synthesised biodegradable bridged silsesquioxane nanoparticles by sol-gel processing. These versatile nanoparticles were used for the vectorization of either anti-cancer drugs or radio-sensitizer elements for radio-therapeutic applications. It has been demonstrated that radioenhancers vectorized by biodegradable organosilica nanoparticles could be successfully biodistributed into tumours and destroy the cancer cells without affecting healthy tissue upon irradiation. This approach used the chicken egg tumour model developed by Professor Fuyuhiko Tamanoi to study the efficiency of the nanocarriers, by rapidly screening numerous drug/nanoparticle combinations. Preclinical trials involving mice animal model studies are currently ongoing before embarking on clinical translation.

I am now a Research Engineer in Nanoformulation at OZ Biosciences, which is dedicated to providing a new generation of research reagents based on molecular delivery systems for transfection and transduction applications. In this role, I have been developing proprietary cationic molecules and functionalized iron oxidebased magnetic and biodegradable nanoparticles. The nano-assemblies are further associated with gene vectors (DNA, siRNA, ODN, virus, etc) to form a powerful transfection tool that can be used in numerous medicinal application such as immunology, oncology, regenerative medicine, etc.

SEM and TEM images and EDX-TEM of biodegradable mesoporous organosilica nanoparticles, with elemental mapping of Si, O, N and S