This thematic line comprises fundamental and applied knowledge on biofilm science, virulence of pathogenic fungi, bioactive peptides/proteins, biomaterials and polymers for drug delivery and regenerative medicine and systems and synthetic biology approaches aiming to develop added-value products and processes aligned with major social health challenges. This line encompasses a multidisciplinary team merging the main activities of 2 CEB’s research groups: Biofilm Science and Technology (BIOFILM), Bionanotechnology (BNG) and including part of the activities of Bioprocess Engineering and Computational Biosystems (BIOSYSTEMS) and Applied Mycology (AMG). While BIOFILM is interested in the understanding of the physiology of biofilms and on the identification of new strategies and antimicrobial molecules, BNG is focused on the development of strategies for the delivery of bioactive molecules. BNG focuses the virulence of pathogenic fungi and The BIOSYSTEMS group is developing systems and synthetic biology strategies addressing some specific health issues. Accordingly, BioHealth focuses 6 main topics of research:
The development of strategies for the delivery of antimicrobial molecules is another main area of activity. Liposomal, PLGA, protein based, nanogels nano/micro formulations are being studied for the control of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, for cosmetic applications exploiting the bioactivity of a keratin derived peptide, for wound healing applications and finally for imagiology purposes using nanogels associated with superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles. Stemming from these activities, 7 patents have been granted in the past few years, an asset that supports the 2 spin-offs: BCTechnologies and Khairpep (khairpep.com) to exploit technologies related to the use of bioactive peptides for cosmetic applications and also the development of biomedical and other applications of bacterial cellulose. Another relevant output is the case of the development of patented injectable hydrogel for bone regeneration, developed in close collaboration with a company and now entering a final set of preclinical assays, while an application for clinical trials is being prepared.
The understanding of the physiological alterations triggered by the biofilm phenotype will help the identification of new targets for biofilm control. The team has been using omic approaches to disclose virulence determinants and resistance mechanisms (as it is being exploited also by AMG regarding pathogenic fungi). Furthermore, the biofilm extracellular products with antimicrobial properties have been isolated and characterized. Molecular probes based on PNA-FISH for biofilm speciation and the fast detection of pathogens in clinical samples has been developed. Three patents based on this technology are presently being exploited by a start-up company that emerged from BIOFILM (Biomod). In addition the team has also been exploiting bacteriophages and phage derived peptides as antimicrobial compounds.
Under the scope of systems biology the main applications include the model-driven physiological characterization of pathogens (e.g. H. pylori or S. faecalis) and the identification of drug targets for unmet health concerns. Under the scope of synthetic biology the engineering of new carriers (viral particles) and molecules (aptamers and peptides) are being developed for targeting and treatment of cancer cells and the development of a phage-based nanocarrier for cancer treatment and diagnosis.
Overall, the following specific new scientific objectives may be highlighted: