Freiburg biology professor Barbara Di Ventura is working with a colleague from the University of Strasbourg on a research project currently financed with Seed Money, a fund for Eucor universities. The team is developing light-sensitive antibody fragments known as nanobodies, and with their help is researching a protein in living cells. In the long term it is hoped that this research will help us better understand the role of the protein in repairing DNA, which could give rise to new possibilities for the treatment of cancer. Sarah Nieber asked Professor Di Ventura how the Seed Money funding supports the team.
Professor Di Ventura, how did you go about applying for Seed Money last year?
Barbara Di Ventura: I had just moved to Freiburg and my colleague Etienne Weiss from Strasbourg approached me. He is an expert in the development of antibodies and works amongst other things in the field of nanobody technology. Nanobodies are the smallest antibody fragments, and we can insert them into the cell nucleus so that they combine with proteins. Etienne Weiss’ laboratory is developing new nanobodies that specifically bind the protein “gamma-H2AX”. Here in Freiburg we can modify proteins so that they become light-sensitive. This enables us to study processes within the cells with light. This is known as optogenetics. So our specializations are complementary: he develops the test material, we make it light-sensitive and then study it in our laboratory. It was soon clear that we wanted to work together and that the Seed Money program could help us do this.
How are you using the money?
In the laboratory we work with living cells that we cultivate, and with DNA constructs that we have to clone. We also need enzymes, specific reagents, pipettes, petri dishes, test tubes and a whole lot more. Unfortunately these laboratory materials are very expensive – we use most of the funding for this. We also meet regularly in Freiburg or Strasbourg and so we have a budget for travel expenses.
How will your project continue after the Seed Money funding?
The project enables us to examine the hypothesis that using optogenetics we can only extract free nanobodies from the cell nucleus. So if we then still find nanobodies in the cell nucleus, we know that they have bonded with the protein gamma-H2AX. So we would therefore have found an option for making the protein more visible. This opens up new paths for cancer research. We would have a good foundation for jointly applying for external funding and continuing to develop our research.
More information about the project Using optogenetics to visualize histone H2AX phosphorylation in living cells with high precision
A second round of Seed Money funding is starting: both renowned professors and researchers from the member universities of Eucor – The European Campus have until 1 October 2018 to apply. The only requirement is that a project must involve at least two universities from two countries. The goal is to finance new projects that foster the development of Eucor – The European Campus and its scientific network. Applications can be made both for the Teaching funding line and for the Research and Innovation funding line. A total of €300,000 is available. The maximum sum awarded a project is €60,000, with a maximum term of 18 months.