Press Release of October 19, 2022
Nanoelectronics for Immunotherapies: HZDR Cancer Researcher Receives ERC Consolidator Grant
Approximately thirty thousand people die every day from cancer worldwide. What is known as “immunotherapy” is increasingly becoming the scientific focus in the fight against the disease. Together with her team, Dr. Larysa Baraban, physicist at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), is researching a chip that should ultimately make it possible to develop customized cancer immunotherapies. Her efforts are funded by the European Research Council (ERC) for five years through an ERC Consolidator Grant totaling nearly two million euros.
Even though numerous cancer therapies have been developed over the past fifty years, many people still die from this disease. Immunooncology, which is aimed at stimulating the immune system so that it can recognize and fight cancer cells, is considered a true revolution in therapy. Nevertheless, it is not undertaken without risk, as activating the immune system can lead to severe autoimmune reactions that sometimes result in death. Therefore, the most important question clinical practitioners ask is: How can we efficiently predict whether and how a patient will respond to immunotherapy? There is currently no predictive technological platform that provides highly-sensitive cancer immunity analysis as well as strategy planning for therapy.
This is precisely where Larysa Baraban from the HZDR Institute of Radiopharmaceutical Cancer Research comes in. She views cancer as an intelligent, self-adapting machine that plays by its own set of rules—rules that must be deciphered. “Cancer generates and quenches the biochemical signals, initiates the iterative loops and builds up feedback controls to create an immunosuppressive environment. My idea is to digitize these mechanisms.” Baraban therefore aims to develop a platform called “ImmunoChip” that studies and describes the elements of the cancer-immunity cycle. In order to digitize the tumor properties, Baraban is expanding the portfolio of methods in cancer research to include nanosensor technology. This continues Baraban’s prior work on developing bio-nanosensors for medical diagnostics. The sensors are able to convert the charges associated with biomolecules very selectively into current or electrical potential and then transmit them for analysis. Here comes into play the close collaboration with the Institute of Ion Beam Physics and Materials Research at HZDR.
The information on the immunosuppressive activity of the cancerous microenvironment, the immune checkpoints, T cells and the efficiency of the immunotherapy is collected in corresponding data patterns. The “ImmunoChip” platform will help answer the following questions: Can the patient be treated using immunotherapy? How does the tumor protect itself? Which immunotherapy should be used? Baraban is confident that answering these questions will lead to customized immunotherapies and therefore to an improvement in treatment results, ultimately helping to save more lives.
With Larysa Baraban’s ERC Consolidator Grant approval, the HZDR received one of the most prestigious ERC awards for the fifth time. The ERC Consolidator Grant is awarded to scientists who have already achieved excellent research results. Funding is normally up to two million euros. The funding period is five years.
Editor: Kim-Astrid Magister
Dr. Larysa Baraban I Institute of Radiopharmaceutical Cancer Research at HZDR
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Simon Schmitt | Head and Press Officer
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