From one of the highest tech laboratories in the world, Mays Al-Dulaymi, a pharmacy post-doctoral researcher at the University of Saskatchewan has set her sights on finding innovative solutions to tackle skin cancer and other genetic skin disorders. At the moment, she is working on a series of nanoparticles, molecules a thousand times smaller than a cross-section of a human hair, that can penetrate the mutated cells directly.
Gene therapy is still highly experimental as it relies on artificial or organic compounds to deliver nucleic acids containing coded information in the form of genes. Mays has created 22 new particles, called gemini surfactants, eight-times more effective than previous generations.
Pharmacy professor Ildiko Badea, Al-Dulaymi’s co-supervisor said that “gene therapy is better than traditional treatments and holds so much promise because it allows us to treat the cause of the disease and not just the symptoms”.
This distribution system is 20 percent less toxic than any other current method as it is more compatible with the body. To study the composition of the compounds and their distribution on skin tissue, she is using a mass spectrometry technique, something never attempted before.
“To treat melanoma, you want the compounds to penetrate the skin, but not deep enough to reach the bloodstream and cause harmful side effects,” said Al-Dulaymi. “My nanoparticles are very promising because they have shown minimum penetration into a liquid simulating blood circulation”.
Mays is a native of Iraq, but the reputation of the Saskatchewan University attracted her to this institution:
“I came here because of the opportunity to explore innovative approaches to treat diseases, and use U of S state-of-the art-facilities (…) [This] is a place where students have the chance to get excellent training opportunities”.