Understanding and exploiting new, complex functional bio-materials is an interdisciplinary effort at the interface between biology, physics, chemistry, material science and engineering. The unique self-recognition properties of DNA defined by the strict rules of Watson-Crick base pairing, makes this material ideal for the self-assembly of predesigned nanostructures in a bottom-up approach.
DNA is an extremely suitable polymer for the generation of nanostructures since:
(1) DNA molecules are highly stable and biocompatible;
(2) molecular recognition between two different strands of DNA is based on a simple four-letter code;
(3) natural or artificial DNA motifs can be engineered to control nanocage opening/closing mechanisms;
(4) DNA strands provide a safe hydrophilic environment in which useful payloads, such as proteins, can be trapped;
(5) DNA strands can be chemically modified to confer a hydrophobic environment into the nanocages, where small drugs can be trapped;
(6) DNA strands can be modified with cellular recognition signals targeting specific cells or tissues.
In our laboratory, we are working on the design and assembly of DNA nanostructures of different geometry, engineered with several DNA motifs that can change conformation upon application of an external stimulus such as pH variation, temperature jump or addition of an external ligand. The conformational changes permit to encapsulate and release bioactive agents in a stimulus-responsive manner for therapeutic applications. The cages are also decorated with specific ligand for selective cell-targeting tasks. The research is aimed to address the fundamental challenges related to the development of new functionally structured materials based on DNA and to gain a deep understanding of the structure and dynamics of the nanostructures using long-time atomistic simulations which can predict the likelihood of successful assembly as well as structural properties of DNA nanostructures before experiments.The final aim is the building of controlled functional DNA nano-devices to be used as selective drug nano-vector for therapeutic purpose targeting specific cell lines such as tumor cells.