Russ Algar

Canada Research Chair in Biochemical Sensing

Tier 2 - 2017-11-01
The University of British Columbia
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council


Coming to Canada From

U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, DC

Research involves

Developing nanoparticles as analytical tools for the optical detection of biological molecules.

Research relevance

This research will lead to new methods to diagnose disease and will also improve understanding of how cells function.

Measuring Enzyme Activity with Nanoparticles

Enzymes are the molecular machines that allow our bodies to function. Their activity must be carefully regulated to keep us healthy. For example, too much or too little activity from proteases—a class of enzyme that degrades proteins—is associated with a number of diseases, including cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.

Protease enzymes frequently work in concert with one another in complex biochemical pathways. Dr. Russ Algar, Canada Research Chair in Biochemical Sensing, aims to understand these complex pathways.

Algar is investigating how the unique properties of nanoparticles (ultrafine particles) can be manipulated to create new diagnostic methods for monitoring the activity of proteases and other enzymes. He is using a type of luminescent nanoparticle—a quantum dot—that can emit different colours of light as a function of size and composition. Quantum dots can be programmed to change their luminescence in response to protease activity by engineering interactions with other light-sensitive molecules. Careful selection of these interactions, combined with different colours of quantum dots, allows for simultaneous tracking of multiple proteases.

Algar aims to use these nanomaterials as diagnostic tools so doctors and medical researchers visualize how complex protease activity unfolds in cells. He also plans to use them as a basis for smarter probes that could provide an initial therapeutic effect at the same time as a diagnosis.

Algar’s research will make use of nanoparticles to provide the analytical tools needed to better understand and cure disease.