Valentina Cauda Wins the USERN Prize in 2017 in Biological Sciences

11/19/2017 10:54:47 PM

Professor Valentina Alice Cauda Won the USERN Junior Prize in 2017 for Her Significant Contribution to Biological Sciences. The following article is an overview of her past and present scientific achievements earning her the USERN Prize of 2017

The USERN Prize is an international and independent prize aimed to identify young scientists on the verge of their carrier, those who have contributed to their field with significant scientific projects, human endeavours and exceptional talent, under age of forty. Professor Valentina Alice Cauda took the title for USERN prize 2017 biological laureate with "Hybrid immune-eluding nanocrystals as smart and active theranostic weapons against cancer -TrojaNanoHorse ". According to the home page at Politecnico di Torino, Valentina Cauda is Associate Professor at the Department of Applied Science and Technology of the Politecnico di Torino, Italy since May 2016. She has received her Ph.D in Material Science and Technology in 2008 from the same university. She also has been Senior Post-Doc at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Turin, Italy. For her research results she received in 2010 the prize for young researchers at the Chemistry Department of the University of Munich, in 2013 she got the Giovedì Scienza award, in 2015 the Zonta Prize for Chemistry, and finally the European Research Council Starting Grant entitled “TrojaNanoHorse”. Abstract of her scientific project that came into view by the USERN board of biological science referees reads:

"Nanomedicine tools for cancer treatment comprise many nanosized systems, so far developed with smart functions such as efficient drug delivery and cell targeting abilities. However they remain still undercharacterized in terms of immunogenicity, potential toxicity due to the materials itself or the unwanted release of drugs. To overcome these challenges this project aims to develop a new generation of multifunctional therapeutic and diagnostic (thus theranostics) nanosystems displaying non-immunogenicity, improved cancer treatment, cell imaging, and high safety for the hosting organism. The innovative concept behind this approach relies on a core-shell nanosystem with a therapeutically active core, i.e. a TrojaNanoHorse (TNH), here validated against leukaemia. The injectable TNH have a lipid bilayer shell derived from autologous cancer cell membrane, naturally non-immunogenic. The hemocompatibility, antithrombogenicity, and targeting ability with antibodies toward malignant blood cells will be proved during this project. Studies will show the therapeutic potentiality of the nanocrystalline core (made of zinc oxide, ZnO) upon activation by ultrasound to develop highly cytotoxic reactive oxygen species (ROS) for cancer killing. In addition, imaging capabilities will be obtained by both the ZnO nanocrystal green fluorescence emission upon UV-light excitation and a novel complex and yet not completely understood mechanism called sonoluminescence. The whole TNH would go beyond the state-of-the-art due to its nature-derived biomimetic shell, absence of drugs, its safety and biodegrading fate, and green sonoluminescent emissions for diagnosis. This project will also develop novel set-up for non-immunogenic therapy and diagnosis, impacting on future technology, new standardized protocols for nanomaterial safety assessment, and study chemical and biological mechanism of ROS development effects on cancer cell. Achieving the ultimate goal of a multifunctional TNH will require multidisciplinary expertise in chemistry, material science, physics, biology, medicine and engineering, opening new horizons as nanomedicine tools for efficient cancer therapy with strong scientific, technological and socio-economic benefits. The expected results after 5 years project are the development of a novel theranostic nanosystem, opening new nanomedicine tools and being potentally applicable to other therapies or function using appropriate nanomaterials. The tests on the nanomaterial safety would also contribute to the establishment of protocol for safety assessment of nanomaterials, which regulations at present are lacking. In a 10-years perspective, in the best case scenario, good manufacturer practice and clinical tests could start, thus leading to new tools for cancer fight in the direction of personalized therapies. The project is divided in 3 main aims concerning the development of the TNH construct and its validation in terms of therapuetic efficacy and diagnostic capabilities. Moreover, safety and biodegradation tests toward both healthy and cancer cells are running, as well as the specific targeting capability of the proposed theranostic weapon. Started in March 2016, with an overall budget of 1'489'219 euro by the European Research Council for 5 years, this project has now concluded its first year. The first results have impressively confirmed the high-risk hypothesis at the base of the project. Thus, my team and I have shown the successful preparation of the TNH construct, combining ZnO nanocrystals with lipid-shell bilayers derived from tumor cell nanovescicles. We are studing the successful activation of ZnO at specific ultrasound frequencies and intensities to obtain ROS able to kill cancer cells. We are also completing the first viability tests on different cancer cells, including leukemia ones, and the biodegradation and biostability tests of the prstine ZnO and the whole TNH construct to understand its behaviour in biological media. "

"I’ve started with a chemical engineering degree [...] and today I received a prize in biology, so I think this states that I work in a field which is a very multidisciplinary field. I am trying to develop smart particles to detect cancer, this is a research work highly demanding and challenging and I hope in future we have a real and clinical solution for this. I also hope this prize with inspire with inspire all young students here to continue to work and do the best of their research"

Professor Valentina Cauda in Receiving the 2017 USERN Prize in Biologica Sciences, November 10th, Karazin University, Kharkiv, Ukraine 

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