Alexander "Sasha" Kabanov, Ph.D.
Alexander “Sasha” Kabanov, Ph.D.

Alexander “Sasha” Kabanov, Ph.D., Dr. Sci., is a recipient of a 2018 Life Sciences Award from the Triangle Business Journal. Kabanov was nominated in the category of Outstanding Individual Research from Universities or Research Institutes.

The award was presented at a ceremony held May 10 at the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary. Kabanov is the Mescal S. Ferguson Distinguished Professor in the Division of Pharmacoengineering and Molecular Pharmaceutics and the director of the School’s Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery. He is a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In 2017 a team led by Alexander Kabanov, Ph.D., created a new way to package and deliver a potent enzyme that can reverse — and even prevent — poisoning by organophosphate pesticides and nerve gases, including VX and sarin. Sarin has been used worldwide as a chemical weapon and is estimated to be 26 times more deadly than cyanide.

Kabanov’s group figured out how to wrap a powerful enzyme called organophosphorus hydrolase in a tiny nanoparticle, which could be taken before, during or after exposure to organophosphate-based toxins. The enzyme is so effective that just one molecule of of it can decompose several thousand molecules of toxin every second. Kabanov’s “nanozyme” could be effective at much lower doses than other potential treatments. Currently, animals and humans can be treated only after exposure. If caught early, treatment is very effective at reversing symptoms but the knockdown on some of these toxins is so fast that there is not enough time to respond or the toxin’s effects are not realized until treatment cannot reverse damage. For something like VX or sarin gas, it is a matter of seconds before victims can no longer treat themselves.

Also in 2017, Kabanov led the development an innovative therapeutic substance that could effectively rehabilitate patients after acute spinal injury, one of the most devastating forms of trauma to the human body. In addition to the direct damage to nerve fibers, subsequent problems, such as the overproduction of free radicals and inflammation, also pose serious risk. Kabanov’s new treatment is based on multilayer polymer nanostructures of the enzyme superoxide dismutase. Based on preliminary tests, this substance can mitigate the stressful oxidization process caused by an excessive number of free radicals, decrease the destruction of tissues and improve recovery after spinal cord injury if delivered quickly enough.

Kabanov’s laboratory was awarded nearly $2 million by the National Institutes of Health to test a new therapy for Parkinson’s disease. The Kabanov team modified white blood cells called macrophages by loading them with polyion complexes that allow the cells to transfer therapeutic proteins and genes to sites of inflammation in the brain. Current therapy for Parkinson’s, such as dopamine replacement, does not treat the disease but only manages the symptoms. Studies have shown that delivering neurotrophic proteins to the brain not only promotes the survival of neurons but also reverses the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Successfully delivering the proteins to the brain is the key to the success of the therapy. Using immune cells avoids the body’s natural defenses, and the repurposed macrophages are able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, something most medicines cannot do.

Kabanov holds 34 United States patents and over 50 foreign patents that have been licensed to four companies. His work has led to the establishment of polymeric micelles as only the second (after liposomes) clinically validated and marketed nanotechnology for drug delivery. In Chapel Hill, he has cofounded NeuroNano, which secured STTR funding for development of an anti-obesity drug, and Ostrea Bio that is focusing on treatment of lysosomal storage diseases with the help of SBIR funding.

Overall Kabanov’s team has published over 300 scientific papers, and his work has been cited nearly 29,500 times (Hirsh index 91). In 2017 he was awarded the George Gamow award for his “cycle of works that initiated the use of polymeric nanomaterials for the delivery of drugs and nucleic acids to the cell.”

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