NANO-VISTA: Advanced photonic antenna tools for biosensing and cellular nanoimaging

Cambi, Alesandra

One of the ultimate challenges in biology is to understand the relationship between the structure, function and dynamics of biomolecules in their natural environment: the living cell. Although modern molecular biology has made enormous progress in identifying different cell components, observing molecular processes in living cells is still a major goal. Key multimolecular interactions that dictate cell functionality occur at the nanometre scale, a size regime not accessible by classical optical techniques owing to the diffraction limit of light. Advances in the fields of molecular and cell biology are strongly coupled to the implementation of photonic tools that allow highly-sensitive measurements in living cells at high molecular concentrations and at the nanometre scale.

Dr Alessandra Cambi from the Department of Tumor Immunology at the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, together with Prof. Dr. Maria Garcia-Parajo (Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia, Barcelona), Prof. Dr Niek van Hulst (Institute of Photonic Sciences, Barcelona), Dr. Hervé Rigneault (Fresnel Institute, Marseille), Dr. Federico Belloni (PixInBio, Marseille) and Prof. Dr. Juergen Brugger (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) were awarded with a EU FP7 STREP grant of 3 M€ over the next 4 years for a project entitled NANO-VISTA.

The goal of NANO-VISTA is to exploit novel concepts of photonic antennas to develop a new generation of bionanophotonic tools for ultrasensitive detection, nanoimaging and nanospectroscopy of biomolecules, both in-vitro and in living cells. Photonic antennas exploit the unique optical properties of metallic nanostructures to route and manipulate light at the nanometre scale, converting optical radiation into intense, engineered, localised field distributions. By squeezing light into subwavelengths volumes, these nanostructures can efficiently mediate interactions between propagating radiation and nanoscale objects.

Cutting edge fundamental research spanning the fields of nanophotonics, plasmonics and nanoimmunology will be combined with novel routes of large scale nanofabrication technology to provide as end result a new photonic technology that will benefit both fundamental researchers in the life science field in general, as well as industrial sectors ranging from biophotonics and nanotechnology enterprises to biosensing companies.

The malignant transformation of cells has been associated with nano-scale changes at the plasma membrane responsible for deleterious prolonged signalling events. This consortium will eventually exploit the technology developed in NANO-VISTA to provide novel fundamental understanding of the different signalling pathways in normal and malignant cells.

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