Photo: Lundbeckfonden

Young researcher to let nanosubmarine repair cells in sick children

Monday 23 Feb 15

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Leticia Hosta-Rigau
Associate Professor
DTU Health Tech
+45 45 25 81 55
Backed by a Lundbeck Foundation Fellowship, Leticia Hosta-Rigau plans to develop a new nanomedical approach to repairing damaged cells, which may benefit newborns with a range of serious diseases.

The talented Spanish researcher Leticia Hosta-Rigau, who has settled in Denmark, has just been awarded a Lundbeck Foundation Fellowship. Thanks to the DKK 10 million grant that comes with the fellowship, Leticia Hosta-Rigau is now able to focus on an ambitious task: the development of a completely new approach to replacing damaged organelles in the cells of the body.

Organelle is a general term for specialized components with different functions within the individual cells. If children are born with defects in one or more types of organelles, this may result in a number of serious diseases. “Children with damaged organelles usually die at an early age. You simply can’t survive without these small organelles working properly,” explains Leticia Hosta-Rigau.

Leticia Hosta-Rigau is focusing particularly on a specific disease where the organelles are unable to form a specific enzyme, resulting in the accumulation of molecules that are not fully broken down, for example in the cells that form patients’ blood vessels. If the body is missing this enzyme, painful and life-threatening symptoms arise. At the moment, the only available treatment consists of injecting the missing enzyme into the patient. This treatment has a limited effect, however, as these enzymes break down quickly in the body.

"Children with damaged organelles usually die at an early age."
Leticia Hosta-Rigau, researcher, DTU Nanotech

Using her Lundbeck Foundation Fellowship, the young researcher is now going to gather a team of talented colleagues in an attempt to develop a new approach to replacing the diseased organelles with healthy, well-functioning artificial organelles. And she is embarking on an innovative path:

“Imagine if we were able to develop a kind of artificial organelles which could be introduced into the cells and replace the organelles that are not working properly. That’s what we’re going to attempt. And if we succeed, it will help improve the outlook for patients with a number of serious diseases.”

The artificial organelles are small particles containing many small compartments where you can place the enzyme the body needs, and which can be designed to work in certain areas of the body.

Leticia Hosta-Rigau imagines that the body’s bloodstream is going to be used to transport the artificial organelles to the damaged cells. The small particles can therefore almost be seen as a kind of mini-submarine which is transported in the blood to the damaged cells. A submarine that she is looking forward to developing and testing in trials in the coming years.

“I’m aware that this is an ambitious project. But I’m certain that, with the support of the Lundbeck Foundation, my colleagues and I will come up with exciting findings and new knowledge gained from the intensive research that we will be conducting over the next few years.”

The work on developing the artificial organelles will take place at DTU Nanotech over the next five years.