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Detecting diseases with molecules in the body

Is it possible to diagnose diseases using molecular switches? The new international consortium LogicLab will address this question. Leiden chemist Sylvestre Bonnet and Leiden pharmacologist Thomas Hankemeier are involved in the project. LogicLab will run for four years and will receive over 3.5 million euros from the European Union.

Switches

The new project is led by the German Jena University and focuses on molecular switches. These are molecules that work like electronic circuits in computers: they process information into a logical output – namely signal 1 or 0, which corresponds to sick or not sick. Within LogicLab, an international team is going to research the fundamental properties of these molecules and see if the switches can be used in the future to diagnose diseases.

Cells that do not function

The project focuses on diseases related to dysfunction of cells along the inner walls of the blood vessels, also called the endothelium. Such malfunctioning cells are the main cause of many lifestyle-related diseases, for instance atherosclerosis. According to the World Health Organization, these diseases accounted for 60% of all deaths worldwide in 2005. LogicLab aims to use molecular switches to detect malfunctioning cells, and thus to diagnose diseases such as atherosclerosis at an earlier stage.

The participants during the kick-off meeting in Berlin

New PhD candidates

Associate professor Sylvestre Bonnet will hire two PhD students for this project. ‘A first PhD student will focus on the synthesis of molecules that simultaneously indicates both the fluidity of a biological membrane and the presence of metal ions such as calcium', says Bonnet. ‘Next, the PhD student will measure the photophysical properties of this molecular switch. The second PhD student will integrate the new molecule into the membrane of living cells and perform the measurements in these cells.’

‘Opportunity to collaborate'

Professor of Analytical Life Sciences Thomas Hankemeier will deal with the metabolomics and will hire one PhD. ‘A great opportunity for the LIC and LACDR to work together', says Bonnet. Another Leiden contribution is the company Mimitas, based at the Leiden Bio Science Park. They will develop models of healthy and diseased blood vessels. 

The official name of the project is ‘Logic Lab - Molecular logic lab-on-a-vesicle for intracellular diagnostics’. From April 2019, 14 international doctoral students will be working on the topic at nine universities, research institutions and companies in Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia. The aim of the Innovative Training Network (ITN) is to train highly qualified young researchers through professional exchange, intensive scientific training and the acquisition of nontechnical skills. The European Union is funding LogicLab as part of the Horizon 2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network.

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