Massimo Bottini, Ph.D. of Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, California, has been awarded two years of funding by the Arthritis National Research Foundation for his project studying a new and improved system of drug delivery for rheumatoid arthritis.
Dr. Bottini has developed chemically engineered nanoscopic particles which can efficiently and safely bring pharmaceutical and diagnostic agents into selected cells. If this new drug delivery is successful, Dr. Bottini predicts that new approaches and lower doses of drugs can be used, thereby opening new avenues for low-risk treatment and/or prevention of rheumatoid arthritis.
Please tell us about your educational background and current position in research:
I received degrees in Electronic Engineering and a PhD in “Sensorial and learning systems” in 2000 and 2004, respectively, at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. After my PhD, I joined the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (La Jolla, CA) as a post-doc. In 2007 I was appointed Staff Scientist at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, which is the position I currently hold.
What is the focus of your research?
During my post-doc, I started investigating the use of particles smaller than a millionth of a millimeter, called “nanoparticles”, for bio-medical applications. In particular, the main focus of my research is the use of nanoparticles to bring drugs into a specific subpopulation of T cells, called regulatory T cells, which have a very important role in maintaining the correct function of our immune system and avoid autoimmunity.
If your experiments are successful, what will this mean for arthritis patients?
Arthritis could develop when the functionalities of regulatory T cells are impaired. If we find a way to deliver drugs specifically into regulatory T cells, we might be able to boost their functionalities without involving other immune cell subpopulations and to achieve arthritis amelioration more efficiently than traditional approaches.
Your work has implications for delivery of therapeutic agents beyond arthritis. How could this be used for other autoimmune diseases?
Our nanoparticles can be easily used as therapeutic approaches for other autoimmune diseases. Indeed, several other autoimmune diseases, for instance diabetes type 1 and lupus, are associated with regulatory T cells with impaired functionalities. Furthermore, many autoimmune diseases develop tissue-specific inflammations associated to a locally impaired immune system. Our nanoparticles could be also optimized to target regulatory T cells specifically into inflamed tissues and get disease amelioration more efficiently than systemic approaches
You are in the second year of support from the Arthritis National Research Foundation. What has this support meant to you in terms of moving your research forward?
ANRF has fundamentally helped the progression of my research. During the first year of support we investigated the targeting of our nanoparticles to regulatory T cells and gathered important results. Thanks to the second year of support from ANRF, we can test our nanoparticles as regulatory T cell-specific delivery systems and get proof of principle about the ability of our nanoparticles to deliver drugs into these immune cells.
How important is an organization like ANRF to the medical research community?
Researchers need organizations like ANRF because they are at a time in their careers when they are trying to establish their independent fight against diseases and need to be supported during the first steps, which are always the most difficult ones. Many scientists that have contributed in the fight against autoimmune diseases (for instance, Dr. Nunzio Bottini and Dr. Salvo Albani) have received support from ANRF and were able to proceed in their research and meet their career goals. They, along with so many other ANRF-supported researchers, have demonstrated that organizations like ANRF represent an important ally of the medical research community – and for patients — in the fight against diseases.
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