Science and Technology

Técnico researcher receives “la Caixa” Foundation fellowship

Paola Alberte’s research on nanobioelectronics to enable novel oncological therapies has earned her a postdoctoral scholarship from "la Caixa" Foundation.

On 22nd March, Paola Sanjuan Alberte, a researcher at the Institute for Bioengineering and Biosciences (IBB) of Instituto Superior Técnico, received a Postdoctoral Junior Leader Fellow from “la Caixa” Foundation. Her research project aims to develop multifunctional nanobioelectronic devices for cancer treatment.

Bioelectronics combines biology and electronics with the aim of creating devices that can interact with living organisms or biological systems. These can be used to detect and monitor biological signals, such as the electrical activity of the heart or brain, as well as to provide electrical or other types of stimuli that influence biological processes.

With many distinct applications, bioelectronic devices may be used to treat Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy or heart disease. “Bioelectronics is an exciting field that is pushing the boundaries of biology and engineering,” says Paola Alberte. All cells use their bioelectric potentials to assist or control metabolic processes. “Every human cell has an electrical charge”, explained the IBB researcher. Cells communicate with each other and carry out their functions through the cell membrane. In cancer cells, this electrical charge may be disturbed and trigger changes in the cell’s behaviour.

This is still an under-explored research area, so it would be crucial to study ways to use this electrical activity in developing new ways to diagnose and treat cancer. Understanding the unique electrical properties of cancer cells will allow more targeted and effective therapies.

In this project, Paola Alberte will develop nanobioelectronic systems that can be stimulated remotely – designed to operate outside the human body. The researcher aims to address two main needs: to contribute to targeted non-invasive therapeutic approaches and to develop therapeutic strategies based on the endogenous bioelectric activity of cancer cells.

The main objectives of this research project are to develop and characterise multifunctional nanoparticles that can be controlled remotely, evaluate their effect in in vitro cancer models and evaluate joint cultures of cancer and healthy cells.

The “la Caixa” Foundation, in collaboration with BPI Bank, awarded a total of 13 doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships on March 22, aimed at researchers to carry out a research project at any university or research centre in Portugal. The fellowships aim to attract and retain talent in Portugal and Spain.