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Francesco De Angelis, Ph.D.
Italian Institute of Technology
The ability to interact with neuronal cells and to monitor their status plays a pivotal role in neuroscience, pharmacology and cell biology. Despite the efforts of a very large community, progresses in this field remain slow because of a dense multi-scale dynamics involving signaling at the molecular, cellular and large network levels. Therefore, observing cell signaling within large networks is a major challenge that can revolutionize our capability of studying the brain and its physio-pathological functions, as well as of deriving bio-inspired concepts to implement artificial systems based on neuronal circuits.
In the last years, we deeply investigated both theoretically and experimentally the interactions of 3D nanostructured sensors with living cells such as human neurons and cardiomyocytes. The aim is to make an effective interface between living tissues and different classes of nano-sensors hence enabling multiscale and multivariable observation of cell dynamics. In particular, we developed a method for opening transient nanopores into the cell membrane that is in close proximity with the nanosensor. After the membrane poration the tip of the sensor is in direct contact with the intracellular compartment thus enabling intracellular investigations which include Raman traces of biomolecules, electrical recording of action potentials of human neurons and cardiomyocytes, and controlled delivery of single nanoparticles into selected cells. We demonstrated the possibility of non-invasively testing the effect of relevant drugs on human cells with particular regards to cardio-toxicity, that is a fundamental step before the clinical trials. Due to its robustness and ease of use, we expect the method will be rapidly adopted by the scientific community and by pharmaceutical companies. In fact, the field suffers the lack of reliable approaches for pharmacological screening of drugs devoted to the central nervous system.
Also, we will take this opportunity to give a short overview of different types of optical and plasmonic biosensors we are currently developing. The latter includes single molecule Raman Sensors, DNA detection, and Protein sequencing.
Dr. Francesco De Angelis carried out his Ph.D. studies in Physics at the Institute of Photonics and Nanotechnologies (CNR, Rome, 2004). Currently, he is Tenured Senior Researcher at Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia where he leads the Plasmon Nanotechnology Unit. The main goal of his research activity is to exploit advanced nanofabrication techniques for controlling the properties of materials at the nanoscales. The majority of the activity concerns the applications of photonic and plasmonic devices to biology and bio-sensing through enhanced spectroscopies (Raman, IR, Fluorescence) and electrical measurements. Different interdisciplinary projects are carried out in collaboration with Biologists and Neuroscientists. Among them, the development of hybrid interfaces between 3D nanostructured devices and living neuronal networks and the development of next-generation optical methods for DNA and protein sequencing.