The ultimate goal of this project is to create complex networks of reactors/processors as a basis for molecular factories. Over the long term, it is anticipated that the organelles and model cells that we will design and develop will provide a new, theragnostic strategy, very much in demand today in the medical domain. In addition, molecular factories will be specifically designed to support applications in environmental science, food science and technology.
Polymer supramolecular structures in the form of micelles, vesicles, and films are of particular interest as building blocks/templates for molecular factories. If appropriately designed from the point of view of chemical nature and properties, these structures can favour the insertion/encapsulation/attachment of biological molecules that serve as active blocks without dramatically impairing their function.
Polymer vesicles and planar membranes selectively permit encapsulation of a variety of biomolecules, ranging from low molar mass components to functional enzymes and proteins, without hampering their activities. In addition, polymer membranes modified by the insertion of channel proteins allow for the selective exchange of molecular components/reaction products between the inside and outside of a membrane cavity, while the functionalization of their surfaces supports targeted approaches.
The approach differs from others in that, due to its chemical nature, the membrane itself is permeable by inserting channel proteins.
Initially, the variety of amphiphilic copolymers, and later the multifunctionality and responsiveness of biomolecule – polymer assemblies will be extended, by integrating them in complex networks that will support molecular factories.
Nanoreactors against malaria (see link to article “Nanomimics of Host Cell Membranes Block Invasion and Expose Invasive Malaria Parasites“ below): Polymer vesicles were designed by the two NCCR-Groups Meier and Palivan to present specific host cell receptors on their surface. Such nanoreactors mimick red blood cells, which are the target of Plasmodium falciparum parasites that cause malaria. When added to a parasite culture, these nanoreactors efficiently interrupt the life cycle of P. falciparum by rapidly binding to the surface of malaria parasites. This inhibits the invasion of uninfected red blood cells, thus efficiently terminating the malaria blood-stage cycle. This new patented strategy offers promising treatments for several severe diseases.