Current - Members - Nanomedicine Research Group

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Last Updated: January 2020

Principal Investigator



Pieter R. Cullis, PhD., FRSC, FNAI (USA)

Scientific Director and CEO, NanoMedicines Innovation Network (
Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology - UBC

My research interests concern the roles of lipids in biological membranes and the development of nanomedicines using lipid nanoparticle (LNP) technology to deliver small molecule drugs and macromolecular “genetic” drugs in vivo. Studies on the roles of lipids concern the ability of membrane lipids to adopt non-bilayer structures (including the roles of such structures in processes such as membrane fusion) and transport processes across bilayer lipid systems induced by trans-bilayer ion gradients. My interests in nanomedicines are firstdevelopment of nanomedicines employing LNP delivery systems containing small molecule drugs, particularly drugs used in cancer chemotherapy, with the aim of increasing potency and reducing toxicity by enhancing drug delivery to, and release at, sites of disease such as tumours and second: designing nanomedicines based on LNP technology that enable the therapeutic use of macromolecular genetic drugs such as small interfering RNA (siRNA), antisense oligonucleotides, mRNA and plasmids for gene therapy, including gene editing. These efforts have led to four nanomedicines that have been approved for clinical use by regulatory agencies such as the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA), the European Medicines Agency and Health Canada. Seven other nanomedicines are in clinical testing (see Table below). Of particular note is the drug Onpattro, a gene therapy that was approved (August 2018) by the FDA to treat a disease known as hereditary amyloid transthyretin (hATTR) amyloidosis. Onpattro is the first RNAi-based drug to be approved by the FDA and employs an LNP delivery system developed in collaboration with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (Boston), my UBC laboratory and two spin-offs that I co-founded (Arbutus Biopharma and Acuitas Therapeutics). Onpattro delivers an siRNA to silence the TTR gene in the liver. A remarkable feature of Onpattro is that it appears able to not only stop further progression of this hitherto untreatable disease (which usually leads to death within five years of diagnosis), but also to reverse the neuropathies and cardiovascular issues associated with hATTR. 
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Research Associates



Genc Basha, MD, PhD

The focus of my research includes the mechanism of uptake and intracellular trafficking of liposomal nanoparticles and gene targeting in antigen presenting cells (DCs) and tumor cells.



Igor Zhigaltsev, PhD

My areas of interest include the design, formulation, physicochemical characterization and in vitro and in vivo evaluation of liposome-based drug forms. Specific methods and techniques used in my research include: preformed vesicle approach, remote loading techniques, freeze-fracture and transmission electron microscopy, evaluation of in vivo pharmacokinetics of liposomal drugs.


Post-Doctoral Fellows




Karen Chan, BSc, PhD

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My research is centered on developing novel lipid nanoparticle (LNP) formulations for the delivery of diverse therapeutic cargo. A current project is focused on the encapsulation of immunomodulatory peptides. I am also interested in the use of LNPs for delivering gene therapy drugs to treat blood coagulation disorders.




Valentina Francia, PhD

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Valentina is working as a joint postdoctoral fellow between the University of British Columbia, Canada in the laboratory of Prof. Dr. Pieter Cullis and the University Medical Center Utrecht, Netherlands, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Raymond Schiffelers. Her project is part of the Horizon2020 EXPERT consortium, and is focused on the investigation of the biomolecular corona of LNPs for nucleic acids delivery.



Dominik Witzigmann, PhD

My research is focused on targeted DNA therapeutics for the treatment of orphan monogenetic liver disorders and the development of lipid-based nanomedicines for the delivery of biomacromolecules. A key step in this development process is the investigation of nano-bio interactions at an organ and cellular level. Financial support for this research is provided by the Swiss National Science Foundation. 
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Graduate Students



Nisha Chander, B.Tech, M.Sc

My research is focused on the development of lipid nanoparticle systems containing small molecule therapeutics and nucleic acids, directed at improving their potency in extra-hepatic tissues through triggered drug release. The aim of my project is to be able to utilize remote triggers such as light or heat to enhance drug release at target sites, which can improve therapeutic outcomes and extend the clinical potential of the encapsulated therapeutics by allowing delivery of larger payloads to tissues that could not be achieved by existing technologies.



Jerry Leung, BSc (Hons)
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Harrison Fan, MASc
Research Scientific Engineer

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The core of my research is focused on the design and assembly of apparatuses to trigger the release of lipid nanoparticle systems. The use of encapsulated magnetic nanoparticles and intense oscillating magnetic fields may be one key technology to assist the localized release of, for example, anti-cancer drugs.


Laboratory Manager



Cayetana Schluter, MSc, CPA, CGA, PMP
Laboratory Manager


Visiting Scientists and Associated Members 



Theresa M. Allen, PhD, FRSC
Adjunct Professor, NanoMedicines Research Group, Dept. of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, UBC, Vancouver
Professor Emeritus, Pharmacology & Oncology, University of Alberta, Edmonton
Co-founder and Strategic Advisor, Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD), Vancouver



Robert (Rob) Fraser, PhD
Co-Founder & Operations Officer BCPMI (BC Personalized Medicine Initiative)
Rob has been involved in pharmaceutical research and development community for over 13 years; group leader in Target Identification for Sanofi; Senior Director of Biology for Xenon Pharmaceuticals, Senior Director of Pharmacology and Site Director at Neuromed (now Zalicus) Director Project Evaluation, CDRD. With a strong background and success rate in the development of targeted therapeutics, and recognizing the need to better target the therapy to the individual to improve safety and efficacy, Dr. Fraser joined Dr. Cullis at the start of 2011 to establish the Personalized Medicine Initiative for BC, which is a major opportunity for multiple institutions and stakeholders within BC to work together to lead a transformative process that will improve healthcare in BC.