1. Please give a summary of your research.
Did you know that cardiovascular disease such as thrombosis (blood clot) is the world's biggest killer? The clots can block the blood flow to the legs, the lung, the heart, and the brain, which can cause life-threatening events such as pulmonary embolism, heart attack, and stroke. Early detection of these blood clots is very important to enable early treatment, which prevents complications and death. There are a couple of imaging techniques that can detect the clots. However, they are not able to provide information on the age of the clots or the progression of the disease which is very critical for a clinician to decide a suitable treatment.
I'm working on solving this problem. My group has developed a very tiny particle (in the nanoscale size) that can not only detect the clots but also sense and report information on the progression or the age of the clots. I call this "a smart nanosensor for detecting and discriminating thrombosis - the silent killer". My project will develop these tiny agents for the reliable and safe diagnosis of thrombotic events using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a widely-available imaging system in clinical settings. The central aim of the project is to develop novel imaging agents with improved functionality and efficacy based on well-known non- or low toxic materials and materials approved by FDA, which enables easy translation to clinical use.
These nanosensors can be injected into the body, trace and bind to the blood clots and then can be tracked by widely used MRI machines. Especially they can switch between different imaging signals by sensing the age of the clots. By doing so, they can smartly provide information on both the location of the blood clots and the current stage or the progression of the disease.
2. Please include any additional details you would like to share
Significance of the project
This research tackles a vital clinical problem, how to image and distinguish between fresh thrombi and aged thrombi so as to prescribe an appropriate treatment. Current clinical technologies are unable to achieve this. Pre-clinical attempts are inadequate. Thrombolytic drugs are used to dissolve blood clots and are commonly used in patients with myocardial infarction, thrombotic stroke, and pulmonary embolism. There are three major classes of thrombolytic or fibrinolytic drugs: tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), streptokinase (SK), and urokinase (UK), with tPA being the most commonly used. Hemorrhage or bleeding is the most common side effect of these drugs and it can be life-threatening. It is well-known that the success rate of fibrinolytic therapy is higher in fresh thrombosis than in old thrombosis. Therefore it is critical to not only localize the thrombus but also determine its age to decide accurate treatment regime. Non-invasive differentiation between old and fresh thrombi would be of clinical importance to estimate the risk for embolization and the necessity of anticoagulation. The working principle demonstrated in this study can be applied to many other diseases such as cancer.
About Dr Hang Ta:
Dr. Hang Ta holds joint appointments at Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology and School of Pharmacy, the University of Queensland. She leads a group of 8 students working on nanomaterials for diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular diseases. She is a pioneering bio-nanomaterials researcher developing innovative nanomaterials and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) nanosensors for molecular imaging and drug delivery for cardiovascular diseases. She has been awarded a number of research prizes, grants and prestigious fellowships for her innovative ideas and projects. She is committed to develop strategic nanotechnology solutions to improve people's health.