Combatting cancer with biological circuits
The Freiburg engineer and biologist Prof. Dr. Barbara Di Ventura receives a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC), one of the most prestigious prizes for European researchers, for her project "InCanTeSiMo - Intelligent cancer therapy with synthetic biology methods". Di Ventura will use the 2 Million Euros to develop a novel cancer treatment based on molecular methods from synthetic biology. For this purpose, her team will develop novel proteins and delivery vehicles to specifically target cancer cells. The circuits should detect whether a cell is cancerous and kill it from within.
"One disadvantage of conventional chemotherapies is that they act throughout the entire body and not exclusively on the tumor and the cancer cells themselves," Di Ventura says. Her goal is to develop a form of treatment that only affects cancer cells and spares the remaining tissue. Another advantage of the new method is that, if the circuits can be equipped with light-sensitive components, the effect could be triggered by light at the right time and in the right place. “This would make the treatment more targeted and flexible”, says Di Ventura, “over the course of the project we want to find out whether this idea is feasible.”
Since 2017, Barbara Di Ventura has been Professor of Biological Signalling Research at the Faculty of Biology at the University of Freiburg and at BIOSS - Centre for Biological Signalling Studies. She coordinates Area C - Re-building & biotechnology since 2020. Since 2019 she has also been a member of the Cluster of Excellence CIBSS - Centre for Integrative Biological Signalling Studies. Di Ventura's focus is on optogenetics. This technique of synthetic biology uses light to control signals in cells. Working with her research group, Di Ventura develops these control-of-function applications to study the dynamics of transcription factors. These are proteins that control the selection of genes in the cell. Di Ventura's applications make it possible to better understand the functions in signaling pathways and networks within cells and organisms.
Barbara Di Ventura studied Computer Engineering at La Sapienza University in Rome, Italy. In 2007 she received her PhD in the field of synthetic biology at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg. From 2007 to 2011, Di Ventura was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Molecular Biology at the University of Heidelberg. She then headed the synthetic biology group at the BioQuant Center in Heidelberg.