Current - Members - Nanomedicine Research Group

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Last Updated: August 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 first: development 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 Fellows & Associates

Dominik Witzigmann, PhD

Principal Research Fellow, Nanomedicines Research Group – UBC

Co-Investigator and Research Management Committee Member, NanoMedicines Innovation Network

Operational Lead, NanoCore


My research focuses on the development of lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) for the delivery of biomacromolecules and rational design of nucleic acid therapeutics for the treatment of orphan disorders. A key step in this development process is the investigation of nano-bio interactions at an organ and cellular level. My interests in gene therapy are: (1) designing LNPs that enable the therapeutic use of siRNA, mRNA and DNA vectors to silence pathogenic genes, express therapeutic proteins, or correct genetic defects; (2) elucidating the role of LNP components to extend in vivo gene therapy applications to extra-hepatic tissues (e.g. bone marrow); (3) developing tools (e.g. zebrafish model) to facilitate the preclinical screening of LNP formulations.

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Genc Basha, MD, PhD

Research Associate

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

Research Associate

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, Bc,S PhD


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


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.




Twitter: @ValeFrancia01



Lokesh Narsineni, PhD


My research at Cullis lab is focused on the development of lipid nanoparticle (LNP) systems for eye gene therapies to treat various ocular neurodegenerative disorders. A rational design approach in the design and development of the LNP vector systems to achieve a successful delivery of the gene cargo into various cell types to the front- and back-of-eye targets. Also, understanding the uptake and biodistribution of LNPs after administration into the eye through various routes is another key exploration that will be carried out through LNP particle trafficking analysis, using tools such as flow cytometry and confocal microscopy. My research interests are 1. Lipid nanoparticle vector systems development, 2. Targeted gene delivery by development of peptide-functionalized lipid nanoparticle vector systems, 3. Synthesis and purification of functionalized lipids, 4. Retinal gene delivery and ocular nanoparticle trafficking analysis and 4. In vitro-in vivo evaluation of ocular gene therapy systems.
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Twitter: @narsinenilokesh

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)


My research focuses on using lipid nanoparticles to modify platelets and their precursor cells, megakaryocytes, to produce platelets with enhanced and improved functions. Implementation of these strategies to create such designer platelets may eventually lead to targeted blood and cancer therapies, as well as more effective platelet products for transfusion.



Madelaine Robertson, BSc (Hons)


My research is focused on optimizing and employing lipid nanoparticles as a delivery system for mRNA and other proteins into platelets. The goal being to express exogenous proteins that could alter platelet function, such as improving clotting ability. Clinically, platelets with enhanced function could decrease the dose necessary for transfusion, or act as a potential treatment for blood disorders.



Harrison Fan, MASc

Research Scientific Engineer


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