16 January 2018

DKK 60 million for developing super-cells

Cell research

Researchers at University of Copenhagen will use light to develop super-cells that are more effective at fighting, for instance, cancer and a wide range of other serious diseases. This has been made possible with a new DKK 60 million six-year research grant from the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

The human body is made up of billions of cells that may potentially develop into severe diseases such as cancer. In order to adapt, grow and reproduce, the cells consist of innumerable molecules that are organized in very precise patterns. These patterns not only determine the function and survival of the cell, they are also the focus of a six-year research project that has just been granted DKK 60 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Challenge Programme.

“We are embarking on a new direction that will expand our understanding of cells and our ability to control their behavior. It has the potential to become a breakthrough but at such an early stage uncertainty is high. The actual potential and added value will become more concrete over the next six years through our intense research efforts.”, says the professor who is heading the research project, Dimitrios Stamou from the Nano Science Centre, Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen.

Super immune cells
The results of Dimitrios Stamou’s research are potentially far-reaching as regards the way the health sector will be able to treat severe diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular diseases, fertility diseases and cancer.

”By redesigning the molecular patterns in the cell, we can make the cell behave the way we want. One possibility may for instance be to develop super immune cells that will kill cancer cells more effectively before they become a tumor”, says Professor Dimitrios Stamou, who collaborates with researchers from University of California, Berkeley and School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, USA.

Light beams may control the cell
To redesign the patterns of molecules in a cell, researchers will apply different methods, including what is called ‘optogenetics’ whereby special light beams can be used to make the molecules place themselves in new patterns, thus allowing the researchers to control the behavior and function of the cell. A method that is not yet widespread but is very promising.

“Almost no one utilizes the fact that the organisation of the molecules in the cell can be changed on purpose in order to alter cell behavior. The most common ways to make a cell do something specific is by either changing (mutating) the molecules in it, or adding new molecules (drugs) to it.”, explains Dimitrios Stamou.

According to Dimitrios Stamou, the development of super immune cells has a time horizon of more than ten years before the method can be tested on humans.

Contact: Prof. Dimitrios Stamou; Tel: +45 2498 1658; Email: stamou@nano.ku.dk