[READ MORE: SCNTs Hold Big Promise](https://lunalabs.us/scnts-big-promise/)
[READ MORE: SCNTs Hold Big Promise](https://lunalabs.us/scnts-big-promise/)
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Applying nanotechnology in medicine creates long-term benefits for patients, improves the patient's life qualities, and reduces costs associated with treating preventable conditions.
Yang Xu, PhD, Principal Investigator and NanoPharma Lead, Luna Labs
Yang Xu, PhD
Principal Investigator and NanoPharma Lead at Luna Labs


Recently, we talked with Dr. Xu about use of carbon-based nanomaterials for nanovaccine development and drug delivery.  One of her current projects, NanoVac™, is a short carbon nanotube-based platform to safely and efficiently deliver a broad range of antigens and therapeutics via multiple administration routes. 

You are an expert in nanotechnology and nanopharma. Could you explain what those terms mean and the ways they are revolutionizing medicine and patient care? 

The concept of nanotechnology was first introduced in 1959 when physicist, Richard Feynman, described making things at the atomic and molecular levels. Nanotechnology is now regarded as the most promising technology of the twenty-first century, and researchers have investigated it as a novel technique in medical areas. 

Nanotechnology is different than other types of medical technologies because it works at the nanoscale, typically ranging from 1 -100 nanometers, or roughly 1/100, 000th – 1/1,000th the diameter of a human hair. This allows for unprecedented precision in interacting with biological systems at the molecular and cellular levels. It means we can achieve more controlled drug release, selective targeting, reduced side effects, improved diagnostics and imaging, higher sensitivities, and improved stability – all important components to personalizing health care for better outcomes. 

Going one step further, nanopharma refers to nano-based systems that are either therapeutic agents or act as vehicles to carry different active pharmaceutical agents into specific parts of the body. Many approved nano-based pharmaceutical products are used in clinics. 

Tell us about NanoVac. What is it? Why is it different than what’s currently used? What are the benefits? 

NanoVac is a short carbon nanotube-based platform developed by Luna Labs to deliver a broad range of biologics (antigens or therapeutics) safely and efficiently via multiple administration routes. It is particularly exciting because of its compatibility with intranasal administration, a needle-free method that enhances adoption and compliance with vaccinations.  

Graphic depiction of NanoVac delivery vehicle

An electron microscope is required to see the NanoVac delivery vehicle, with each rod 100-200 nm long. In the schematic, the loading of nucleic acids and proteins on the surface of the vehicle is illustrated. 

The short carbon nanotubes (SCNTs) are different than traditional or commercially available carbon nanotubes since they are precisely cut, separated, and purified to obtain a narrow size distribution and ensure biocompatibility, which reduces safety concerns caused by traditional long or bundled carbon nanotubes. Due to their high surface area, SCNTs can be modified with multiple copies of a payload or even different payloads.  

What’s the significance of a “short carbon nanotube-based platform”? How do you envision this technology changing healthcare delivery? 

Despite the advantages of mRNA vaccines, challenges remain. The current delivery method uses lipid nanoparticles with known inflammatory reactions and no innate immune response. The NanoVac platform is designed to “mimic” virus structure and offers significant improvements. It can: 

    • protect mRNA from degradation during normal distribution and storage 
    • increase the blood circulation half-life 
    • ensure uptake by cells 
    • enhance the mRNA expression in the cells 
    • vaccinate against multiple targets simultaneously 
    • reduce the dose of biologics and the toxicity of the delivery vehicle 

As a result, the NanoVac approach can potentially help increase biocompatibility and patient tolerance while simplifying production capabilities and reducing costs. 

When you think about the future of NanoVac, what are some of the next steps in getting it into clinical use? 

Our immediate next steps are to finalize manufacturing capabilities and develop safety profiles for clinical trials. At the same time, we are seeking collaboration with various pharma companies to explore hundreds of mRNA- or nucleic-acid based agents to fight against cancer and other diseases. 

Tell us about your vision for what Luna Labs’ biotech teams can accomplish. What are their competitive advantages? Strengths? 

At Luna Labs, we have a wonderful mix of young investigators who bring bright, bold ideas and experienced leadership teams with the drive to understand the needs of our customers and markets. It creates an inspired environment for cross-disciplinary collaboration, exploration, and commercialization. It means we’re judicious in the problems we decide to tackle, but fearless and confident in our abilities to create high-impact solutions.

You have a strong nanotech and nanopharma background. Tell us about some of your research highlights over the course of your career. 

While I’ve worked on several different disease models, I’m most pleased with the work accomplished on a carbon-based nanodelivery platform for cancer treatment and a layer-by-layer delivery and sustained release platform for COVID vaccine and Malaria vaccine.  

Of course, our team’s work on the NanoVac short carbon nanotube nanodelivery platform holds huge promise for improved healthcare delivery and ultimately better patient experiences. 

What inspires you to come to work every day? 

My colleagues and I share a common mission. We come to Luna Labs not to do pure research but to create products that can positively change lives.  

Dr. Xu is a well-established principal investigator working in biotechnology and nanotechnology, specializing in drug delivery, gene delivery, nanovaccines, and therapeutics. She has a strong history working with HIV-1, malaria, and COVID-19 and has directed multiple programs for novel vaccine development and drug delivery. 

Prior to her work with Luna Labs, Dr. Xu was a Research Assistant Professor at the Nanotechnology Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She received her PhD in Physical Chemistry from Nanjing University. 


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