Helen M. Burt

About the Principal Investigator

Helen Burt
E-mail: burt@mail.ubc.ca
Phone: 604-822-2440


Degree: B. Pharm (Hons)
Institution: University of Bath, England
Period: 1975

Previous Positions

Position: Assistant Professor
Institution: UBC
Period: 1988
Position: Assistant Professor
Institution: UBC
Period: 1980
Position: Professor
Institution: UBC
Period: 1995
Position: Director of Research
Institution: Angiotech Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
Period: 1996-1997 60% time
Position: CIHR Coordinator
Institution: VP Research Office, UBC
Period: 2001-2004, 40% time

Current Position

Position: Angiotech Professor of Drug Delivery
Institution: Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, UBC Associate Dean, Research and Graduate Studies
Period: 2004 - Present
Position: Head, Division of Drug Delivery
Institution: Centre for Drug Research and Development, UBC
Period: 2006 - Present

Major Awards

Name: Canadian Society of Pharmaceutical Scientists Award of Leadership
Period: 2009
Name: NSERC Synergy Award for Innovation (with Angiotech Pharmaceuticals, Inc)
Period: 2006
Name: Association of Faculties of Pharmacy of Canada- Pfizer Research Career Award
Period: 2006
Name: Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences
Period: 2005
Name: YWCA Woman of Distinction Award for Science, Research and Technology
Period: 2000
Name: UBC Teaching Excellence Prize
Period: 1990



About the Lab

In the Burt lab, a lab manager, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate research assistants collaborate on a broad spectrum of multidisciplinary projects. The lab is equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation essential to developing and characterization of novel drug delivery systems, as well as the solid-state characterization of active pharmaceutical ingredients (API). Collaborations with various principle investigators (PI’s) and research centres provide access to additional, specialized instrumentation. The lab is consistently well funded through various national funding agencies, including CIHR and NSERC, as well as industry partners. The Burt lab has contributed to the scientific community through the publication of peer-reviewed articles, and has been involved in the development of several commercially available products.

Training Environment

Graduate students and post-doctoral fellows come to the Burt lab from a broad range of academic backgrounds, including chemical/biomedical/materials engineering, polymer chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, kinesiology, and pharmaceutical sciences. All trainees gain fundamental knowledge of pharmaceutics and drug delivery systems through numerous specialized graduate courses including Advanced Pharmaceutics, Advanced Drug Delivery Systems, and Nanomedicines. In addition, trainees often take courses offered by other faculties that are directly related to their specific research interests.

The diverse backgrounds of the Burt lab members bring together a variety of expertise needed to tackle the multidisciplinary nature of the research projects. The projects provide research trainees with opportunities to work with collaborators from other disciplines and research centers, such as the Centre for Drug Research & Development (CDRD), Jack Bell Research Centre, Prostate Centre, Biomedical Research Centre, Blood Research Centre, Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), and the BC Cancer Agency. The Burt lab provides ample bench space for experimentation and analysis, with dedicated polymer synthesis lab, cell culture facility and radioactivity lab. Trainees attend weekly lab meetings, project-specific focus meetings, journal clubs and are encouraged to attend a variety of international conferences. These opportunities allow our researchers to present data and contribute ideas, as well as network and keep abreast with cutting edge science. Upon completion of their research program, trainees depart as independent researchers with the essential technical, communications and critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in their chosen career path.

Social Aspects & Cultural Diversity

The Burt lab is a culturally diverse group with members from North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. We believe in developing strong friendships and maintaining a balance between work and social activities, with the hosting of several social gatherings throughout the year. Furthermore, we are committed to global well being, and trainees are encouraged to participate in various volunteer opportunities.


Our projects are primarily focused around nanotechnology as applied to the development of innovative nano-sized drug “carriers”. These carriers, known as nanoparticulate drug delivery systems, are designed to deliver their drug payload to different sites in the body and release the drug at controlled rates. Nanoparticulate drug delivery systems are an exciting new technology with potential applications in a broad range of disease states, including cancer, arthritis, tissue regeneration, infectious diseases and many more.
We are also working on the development of films, gels, scaffolds and microspheres for the controlled release of drugs. Solid state characterization of solid drugs and delivery systems is an essential component of all our studies. Examples of specific projects are given below:

Drug loaded hyperbranched polyglycerols in superficial bladder cancer:

Hyperbranched polyglycerols (HPGs) or “unimolecular micelles”, 5-10 nm in diameter, are highly branched and hydrophobically modified carriers that encapsulate water-insoluble drugs. We believe that intravesical administration of mucoadhesive nanoparticulate HPG formulations of anticancer drugs may be a promising approach for instillation therapy of patients with superficial bladder cancer. Studies are on-going to surface modify the HPGs to increase mucoadhesion, characterize these systems and evaluate bladder tissue permeability, pharmacokinetics and efficacy.

Drug loaded micelles and nanospheres in multidrug resistant (MDR) cancer:

We have been investigating the use of amphiphilic block copolymers for the formation of nanoparticulate drug delivery systems for many years. In an aqueous environment, these materials form nanoparticles with a hydrophobic core and a hydrophilic shell morphology. Depending on factors such as the hydrophobic/hydrophilic block composition and length, nanoparticles with significantly different physicochemical properties can be prepared. We have shown that these nanoparticles also vary in their distribution patterns in human plasma. Studies are on-going to evaluate the cellular accumulation of drug loaded nanoparticles in MDR cells, pharmacokinetics and efficacy. Ultrasound also influences intracellular drug uptake and in collaborative work with the Dept. of Mechanical Engineering at UBC, the effect of ultrasound produced by a micro-ultrasonic transducer on cell uptake of drug loaded nanoparticles in MDR and drug sensitive cancer cell lines is being evaluated.

Drug loaded nanofibres in surgical site infections:

We are developing antibiotic loaded polymeric nanofibres, produced by an electrospinning process, to deliver drugs to prevent or treat infections. Factors such as polymer composition, drug loading and nanofibre morphology can be systematically controlled to achieve optimal drug release profiles.

Nanocrystalline cellulose:

Novel medical and drug delivery applications for cellulosic nanomaterials are being explored in collaboration with FPInnovations. Nanocrystalline cellulose is extracted from wood pulp by proprietary methods and strategies for binding drugs to the surface of these materials and subsequent drug release profiles are being investigated.

Gold nanoparticles:

We are investigating the development of an effective thermal ablation therapy for localized prostate cancer using gold nanoparticles with surface bound polymer and drug. Gold nanoparticles exposed to tissue-penetrating near infrared radiation produce heat and cause cell death. However, non-lethal hyperthermia produces thermotolerance caused by heat shock protein synthesis. We are proposing to co-deliver drugs and antisense oligonucleotides to heat shock proteins to enhance the effectiveness of hyperthermia.

Selected Publications

  • Letchford, K, R Liggins, KM Wasan and HM Burt. “In vitro human plasma distribution of nanoparticulate paclitaxel is dependent on the physicochemical properties of poly(ethylene glycol)-block-poly(caprolactone) nanoparticles.” European Journal of Pharmaceutics & Biopharmaceutics 71 (2009) 196-206.
  • Yang, C, D Plackett, D Needham and HM Burt. “PLGA and PHBV Microsphere Formulations and Solid-state Characterization: Possible Implications for Local Delivery of Fusidic Acid for the Treatment and Prevention of Orthopaedic Infections.” Pharmaceutical Research 26(7) (2009): 1644-1656.
  • Elamanchili, P, C McEachern and HM Burt. “Reversal of multidrug resistance by methoxypolyethylene glycol-block-polycaprolactone diblock copolymers through the inhibition of P-glycoprotein function.” Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 98 (2009) 945-958.
  • Yang, C, H Frei, FM Rossi and HM Burt. “The differential in vitro and in vivo responses of bone marrow stromal cells on novel porous gelatin-alginate scaffolds.” Journal of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine 3 (2009).
  • Weiss, A, TC Preston, J Popov, Q Li, S Wu, KC Chou, HM Burt, MB Bally and R Signorell. “Selective recognition of Rituximab-functionalized gold nanoparticles by lymphoma cells.” Journal of Physical Chemistry C (in press) 2009.
  • Mugabe, C, BA Hadaschik, RK Kainthan, DE Brooks, AI So, ME Gleave and HM Burt. “Paclitaxel incorporated in hydrophobically derivatized hyperbranched polyglycerols for intravesical bladder cancer therapy.” British Journal of Urology 103 (2008): 978-986.
  • Siu, T, JK Jackson HM Burt and M Chiao. "Sonodynamic therapy: a potential application for microultrasonic transducers." IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering 54 (2007) 1153-1156.


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