Diana Velluto, Ph.D.
is Research Assistant Professor of Surgery at the Diabetes Research Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. For almost a decade, Dr. Velluto’s area of focus at the DRI has been in developing novel biocompatible nanomaterials for controlled drug delivery to use toward the cure of type 1 diabetes.
Dr. Velluto obtained a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences, Organic Chemistry oriented, from the School of Pharmacy at the University of Chieti (Italy), and in collaboration with the ETH Zürich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich), on the design and synthesis of biologically active nanomaterials and their therapeutic applications to address relevant medical problems. Then she moved to Switzerland to the EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne), to work as postdoctoral fellow in the interdisciplinary laboratory of Prof. Jeffrey Hubbell, where she had the opportunity to acquire skills in bioengineering and immunology, beside improving her knowledge of polymer chemistry, nanomaterials, and pharmacology. Under the mentorship of Prof. Hubbell, she started focusing on translational science, to transform her discoveries made in the laboratory into new treatments for patients.
Since very young, Diana has been passioned about drug discovery to improve or extend the life of patients, but she was also concerned about certain clinical situations, such as cancer, in which patients have experienced debilitating side effects from the treatment, or in other cases, such as organ and cell transplantations, where patients must be on life-long systemic immunosuppression. She believed that in those and similar situations, the ability to deliver drugs and pharmaceutical compounds safely in the body and specifically to their sites of action, could radically improve the life of the patients.
Therefore, she is dedicating her research career to the study, design, and development of smart vehicles (nanocarriers) that improve the pharmaceutical properties of novel and existing drugs, and she became an expert in nanomedicine and drug delivery.
Particularly inspired by the way nature builds materials (e.g., proteins and peptides) with unique properties, such as biocompatibility, hierarchical organization, and adaptability, Dr. Velluto has developed an easy, low cost, versatile and safe method to synthetize amphiphilic di- and tri-block copolymers made of poly(ethylene glycol)-poly(propylene sulfide) (PEG-PPS), PEG-oligo(ethylene sulfide) (PEG-OES), and PEG-PPS-poly(ethylene imine) (PEG-PPS-PEI). She demonstrated that these block copolymers can self-assemble into a variety of nanostructures (vesicles, solid core micelles, and fibrils) and they can allow rapid and stable incorporation of therapeutics (including DNA/RNA) without the need for chemical conjugation. She proved that her nanocarriers, renamed as “Drug Integrated Amphiphilic Nano-Assemblies (DIANA)” are non-immunogenic, non-toxic, and able to solubilize, deliver, and provide sustained release for a variety of drugs in vitro and in vivo. Furthermore, she showed that DIANA can spontaneously target an inflamed site in small animal models.
As a Research Professor, at the DRI Dr. Velluto is currently developing customizable DIANA for localized immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory therapies, to minimize or eliminate the need of systemic therapies and their side effects and extending the applicability of pancreatic islet transplantation for type 1 diabetes (T1D). She is also combining nanomaterials with other technologies, such as stem cell-based therapy. Therefore, at the DRI she is involved in many projects related to immunoregulation for T1D, and in several collaborations. Dr. Velluto’s research work is reported in almost 30 publications in peer-reviewed journals, 3 patents and 1 patent application in the field of nanotechnologies for medicine.
Dr. Velluto’s main goal will be translating the DIANA systems into clinical use for patients with T1D.