Mechanical forces transmitted through specific molecular bonds drive biological function, and their understanding and control hold an uncharted potential in oncology, regenerative medicine and biomaterial design. However, this potential has not been realised, because it requires developing and integrating disparate technologies to measure and manipulate mechanical and adhesive properties from the nanometre to the metre scale. We propose to address this challenge by building an interdisciplinary research community with the aim of understanding and controlling cellular mechanics from the molecular to the organism scale. At the nanometric molecular level, we will develop cellular microenvironments enabled by peptidomimetics of cell-cell and cell-matrix ligands, with defined mechanical and adhesive properties that we will dynamically control in time and space trough photo-activation. The properties under force of the molecular bonds involved will be characterized using single-molecule atomic force microscopy and magnetic tweezers. At the cell-to-organ scale, we will combine controlled microenvironments and interfering strategies with the development of techniques to measure and control mechanical forces and adhesion in cells and tissues, and to evaluate their biological response. At the organism scale, we will establish how cellular mechanics can be controlled, by targeting specific adhesive interactions, to impair or abrogate breast tumour progression in a mouse model. At all stages and scales of the project, we will integrate experimental data with multi-scale computational modelling to establish the rules driving biological response to mechanics and adhesion. With this approach, we aim to develop specific therapeutic approaches beyond the current paradigm in breast cancer treatment. Beyond breast cancer, the general principles targeted by our technology will have high applicability in oncology, regenerative medicine and biomaterials.
Metasurfaces, thin film planar, artificial structures, have recently enabled the realization of novel electromagnetic (EM) and optical components with engineered functionalities. These include total EM radiation absorption, filtering and steering of light and sound, as well as nano-antennas for sensors and implantable devices. Nonetheless, metasurfaces are presently non-adaptive and non-reusable, restricting their applicability to a single, static functionality per structure (e.g., steering light towards a fixed direction). Moreover, designing a metasurface remains a task for specialized researchers, limiting their accessibility from the broad engineering field. VISORSURF proposes a hardware platform-the HyperSurface-that can host metasurface functionalities described in software. The HyperSurface essentially merges existing metasurfaces with nanonetworks, acting as a reconfigurable metasurface whose properties can be changed via a software interface. This control is achieved by a network of miniaturized controllers, incorporated into the structure of the metasurface. The controllers receive programmatic directives and perform simple alterations on the metasurface structure, adjusting its EM behavior. The required end-functionality is described in well-defined, reusable software modules, adding the potential for hosting multiple functionalities concurrently and adaptively. VISORSURF will study in depth the novel and unexplored theoretical capabilities of the HyperSurface concept. Two experimental prototypes will be implemented: a switch-based fabric array as the control medium; and a Graphene based, making use of its exquisite properties to provide finer control. A real pilot-application will demonstrate the HyperSurface potential to adapt to changes in their environment, to interconnect to smart control loops and make use of Information Technology (IT) programming concepts and algorithms in crafting the EM behavior of materials.
In recent years, several research groups have been created in the emerging research area of molecular communications. This is seen as a fundamental enabler for nano-scale networked devices. The heterogeneity of the biological environments that can host nano-scale communications has produced different proposals (e.g. neuronal networks, molecular diffusion, flow-based carrier mobility) analyzed by means of different research approaches and tools (different analytical models, simulators, lab experiments). For this reason, the need of integrating research activities at an EU level has emerged. The main objective of the CIRCLE is to integrate islands of heterogeneous research activities in a common research framework. The nature of the proposal is therefore strategic for the EU research objectives, highly interdisciplinary, inclusive of any input coming from any research activities that can contribute to identifying a research roadmap for the future years and feasible future exploitation plans.
In the short term, CIRCLE will facilitate the creation of an EU wide Molecular Communications (CIRCLE) forum and provide a support infrastructure for coordination of research across Europe. In the medium term, it will foster knowledge sharing via the CIRCLE forum and a dedicated web portal. This will focus on the sharing of both research methodologies and simulation code repositories. It will establish expert working groups in different research topics within the Molecular Communications domain and develop strategic Roadmaps for both academic research and industry involvement. In the long term, CIRCLE will push the Roadmaps at a Member State and EU level to ensure Molecular Communications research converges rapidly towards feasible products of interest in the marketplace.