Frank Gu

B.Sc. (Trent), PhD (Queen’s), Postdoc (MIT-Harvard)
Director, Institute for Water Innovation (IWI)
Principal Investigator, Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Water Sustainability
NSERC Senior Industrial Research Chair in Nanotechnology Engineering

Room WB329 | Tel: 416-978-8518 | Email:


Honours & Awards

NSERC Senior Industrial Research Chair
Member to the College of the Royal Society of Canada
Canada Research Chair (Tier II)
Ontario Early Research Award


Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology
Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering
Professional Engineers of Ontario
Royal Society of Canada

Research Interests

Ophthalmic devices and drug delivery

Vision care diseases affect a significant portion of the population, with effects ranging from mild discomfort to partial or complete loss of vision. Fortunately, medications can help manage the symptoms of these diseases, but treatment often requires taking eye drops multiple times a day which tends to be difficult for patients. Not only is this type of treatment inconvenient, but the high dosages required can cause serious side effects.

The eye is excellent at clearing away foreign materials. However, if we prevent this fast clearing, we can reduce both the number of dosages and the amount of drugs required per dose. In our lab, we aim to develop nanomedicine by packaging drugs inside nanoparticle carriers that stick to the eye and slowly release the drugs. The drugs are loaded inside the centre of the nanoparticles with ligands(molecules) on the surface of the nanoparticles that specifically bind to the mucous membranes. Once attached to the eye’s mucous membrane (mucoadhesion), the nanoparticles slowly release the drugs over the span of a week and will not be cleared away by tears, resulting in fewer required dosages and less drugs per dose.

Pathogen Diagnostics

In the mid¬-20th century, experts believed the discovery of vaccines and antibiotic drugs would erase the problem of infectious diseases. Unfortunately, this prediction has not held true. Infectious and parasitic diseases still devastate the global population. They account for almost 30% of all disability adjusted life years (DALY), in which one DALY means that one year of “healthy” life is lost. In an effort to improve disease outcomes, strategies for the diagnosis of infectious diseases are being enhanced. These innovations are producing methods that are more rapid, reliable, sensitive and practical. Many of these strategies are based on nanomaterials.

Our lab investigates the use of particular nanomaterials, such as gold nanoparticles, to develop nanodiagnostic platforms for the detection and identification of pathogens, which are microorganisms that can cause disease. We aim to develop a product that can simultaneously detect and identify several pathogens in a single test.

Industrial Wastewater Treatment

Recent years have seen a dramatic shift in public awareness of environmental issues. Our research group is using nanotechnology to develop photocatalysts which harness solar energy to break down organic pollutants in water by efficiently and passively scrubbing wastewater of toxic materials. Once the water is cleaned, the photocatalyst is completely recovered from the water and can be reused continuously to create more clean water without producing any waste.

One challenge that we aim to overcome using this technology is the large volumes of process water stored on site in Canada’s oil sands operations, which cannot be released because they contain dissolved naphthenic acids, which are byproducts from the oil extraction process. Our lab is actively developing water treatment solutions to enable a green revolution for Canada’s oil sands.

Another challenging task is the treatment of toxic byproducts in mining, agricultural and power generating industries. Recent focus in water treatment research has shifted to selenium, due to its toxicity in aquatic environments at concentrations of a single part per billion. We are looking to the nanoscale in order to design a reusable highly functional photocatalytic material capable of selectively removing Se to below parts per billion concentrations.

Selected Publications

Holmes A, Ngan A, Gu F. Selective removal of Se through selenate specific photocatalytic reduction over TiO2 in the presence of nitrate and sulfate in mine-impacted water. Chemosphere. (Accepted in 2021).

Chen PZ, Bobrovitz N, Premji Z, Koopmans M, Fisman DN, Gu F. Heterogeneity in transmissibility and shedding SARS-CoV-2 via droplets and aerosols. eLife (Accepted in 2021).

Chen P, Bobrovitz N, Premji Z, Koopmans M, Fisman D, Gu F. Understanding why superspreading drives COVID-19 but not pandemic H1N1. Lancet Infectious Disease. (Accepted in 2021).

Chen P, Bobrovitz N, Premji Z, Koopmans M, Fisman D, Gu F. Heterogeneity in transmissibility and shedding SARS-CoV-2 via droplets and aerosols. eLife. 2021;10:e65774 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.65774.

Clasky A, Watchorn J, Chen P, Gu F. From prevention to diagnosis and treatment: biomedical applications of metal nanoparticle-hydrogel composites. Acta Biomaterialia. 2021. 122:1-25.

Lilge L, Manalac A, Weersink M, Schwiegelsohn, Young-Schultz-T, Abdalrhman AS, Wang C, Ngan A, Gu F, Betz V, Hofmann R. Light propagation within N95 filtered face respirators: a simulation study for UVC decontamination. Journal of Biophotonics. 2020. 13(12):1-10.

Daeschler SC, Manson N, Joachim K, Chin A, Chan K, Chen P, Tajdaran K, Mirmeoini K, Zhang JJ, Maynes JT, Darbandi A, Stephens D, Gu F, Poon LLM, Borschel GH. Effect of moist heat reprocessing of N95 respirators on SARS-CoV-2 inactivation and respirator function. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2020. 192(41): E1189-1197.

Holmes A, Khan D, Livera D, Gu F. Enhanced photocatalytic selectivity of noble metallized TiO2 (Au-, Ag-, Pt- and Pd-TiO2) nanoparticles for the reduction of selenate in water: Tunable Se reduction product H2Se(g) vs. Se(s). Environmental Science: Nano. 2020, 7:1841-1852.

Linley S, Holmes A, Leshuk T, Nafo W, Thomson N, Al-Mayah D, McVey K, Sra K, Gu F‡. Factors Affecting Pluronic-Coated Iron Oxide Nanoparticle Binding to Petroleum Hydrocarbon-Impacted Sediments. Chemosphere. 2020. 254: 126732

Varkouhi A, Jerkic M, Ormesher L, Gagnon S, Goyal S, Rabani R, Masterson CC, Spring C, Chen PZ, Gu F, dos Santos C, Curley G, Laffey J. Extracellular vesicles from interferon-g Primed Human Umbilical Cord Mesenchymal Stromal Cells Reduce Escherichia coli-Induced Acute Lung Injury in Rats. Anethesiology. 2019. 130(5): 778-790.

Mellage A, Holmes A, Linley S, Rezanezhad F, Thomson N, Gu F, Van Cappellen P. Sensing iron-oxide nanoparticles with spectral induced polarization (SIP): Experiments in natural sand packed flow-through columns. Environmental Science & Technology. 2018. 52(4):2081-2090.

Linley S, Holmes A, Leshuk T, Nafo W, Thomson N, Al-Mayah D, McVey K, Sra K, Gu F. Targeted Nanoparticle Binding & Detection in Petroleum Hydrocarbon Impacted Soils. Chemosphere. 2019. 215:353-361.

Lin P, Chuang TL, Chen PZ, Lin CW, Gu F. Low-fouling characteristics of ultrathin zwitterionic cysteine SAMs. Langmuir. 2019. 35(5):1756-1767.

Leshuk T, Peru K, Livera D, Tripp A, Bardo P, Headley J, Gu F. Petroleomic analysis of the treatment of naphthenic organics in oil sands process-affected water with buoyant photocatalysts. Water Research. 2018. 141:297-306.

Livera D, Leshuk T, Peru K, Headley J, Gu F. Structure-reactivity relationship of Naphthenic Acids in the photocatalytic mineralization process. Chemosphere. 2018. 200:180-190.

Leshuk T, Holmes A, Ranatunga D, Chen P, Jiang Y, Gu F. Magnetic flocculation for nanoparticle separation and catalyst recycling. Environmental Science & Nano. 2018. 5:509-519.

Xu J, Zhang S, Machado A, Lecommandoux S, Sandre O, Gu F, Colin A. Controllable Microfluidic Production of Drug-Loaded PLGA Nanoparticles Using Partially Water-Miscible Mixed Solvent Microdroplets as a Precursor. Scientific Report. 2017. 7:4794.

Jaheb Z, Shahsavn H, Verma M, Rogowski J, Seo B, Zhao B, Tsui T, Gu F, Mohammad M. Bacterial Networks on Hydrophobic Micropillars. ACS Nano. 2017. 11:675-83.

Liu S, Dozois M, Chang CN, Ahmad A, Ng D, Hileeto D, Liang H, Reyad MM, Boyd S, Jones L, Gu F. Cyclosporine A loaded mucoadhesive nanoparticle eye drop formulation enhances treatment of experimental dry eye in mice using a weekly dosing regimen. Molecular Pharmaceutics. 2016. 13:2897-905.

Holmes A, Gu F. Emerging nanomaterials for the application of Selenium removal for wastewater treatment. Environmental Science Nano. 2016. 3:982-986.

Verma MS, Wei SC, Rogowski JL, Tsuji JM, Chen PZ, Lin CW, Jones L, Gu F. Interactions between bacterial surface and nanoparticles govern the performance of “chemical nose” biosensors. Biosensors & Bioelectronics. 2016. 83:115-25.

Verma M, Jones L, Gu F. Colorimetric biosensing of pathogens using gold nanoparticles. Biotechnology Advances. 2015. 33(6):666-680.

Liu S, Chang CN, Verma MS, Hileeto D, Muntz A, Stahl U, Woods J, Jones LW, Gu F. Phenylboronic acid modified mucoadhesive nanoparticle drug carriers facilitate weekly treatment of experimentally-induced dry eye syndrome. Nano Research. 2015. 8(2):621-635.