Institute of biomolecular chemistry (ICB)

Research activities

Research activity of the Institute is related to compounds of biological interest of various nature; this activity is aimed both to basic and applicative research.The mission of ICB consists of the chemical study of biological systems and processes to understand their function at the molecular level and explore their new technological applications. ICB personnel has expertise in fields ranging from basic chemistry to biology, for the development of molecules and processes of biological interest through multi- and inter-disciplinary approaches. ICB operates in the fields of bioorganic chemistry and chemical biology, with expertise in the disciplines of spectroscopy, structural and synthetic chemistry, biochemistry, molecular modeling, microbiology, pharmacology, nutraceutics and bioenergetics.

In detail expertises at ICB can be listed below:

1. Synthesis of organic molecules

Synthesis of natural products and their analogs as targets and starting compounds for the development of bioactive molecules of pharmacological potential. Preparation of immune-modulating glycolipids, anti-oxidant and anti-tumor biphenyl compounds, peptides and peptidomimetics. Development of new methods of asymmetric and non-asymmetric catalysis, according to Green Chemistry principles and towards the functionalization of macrocyclic compounds and biodiesels.

Study of synthetic methods that use as catalysts enzymes isolated from microorganisms (bacteria, fungi), also extremophiles, and macroorganisms (marine and terrestrial), for the production of chemical modification of molecules (including chiral compounds) to be eventually used as therapeutic drugs, agrochemicals and synthones of high value for organic synthesis. The biocatalysts normally used are: alcohol dehydrogenases, chloro-peroxidases, glycosidases and glycosynthases, lipases, nitrilases, nitrile-hydratases or -amidases.

Development of methods for asymmetrical syntheses using organic or organometallic catalysts. Synthesis of caspase inhibitors, total synthesis of tetrahydroisochinolines and Tolterodin; synthesis of dihydropyridines, piperidines and bioactive intermediates of pharmaceutical interest. Selective oxidation of polyols of natural origin; study of radicals and their reaction mechanisms; anti-oxidants; biocatalysis.

2. Molecular recognition and its biological consequences

Studies on new possible therapies for debilitating genetic disorders: molecular bases of disease through the study of the structure-activity relationships of proteins and bioactive peptides, pharmacological chaperones, endocannabinoids and related mediators. Chemical communication among bacteria and inter-kingdom communications. Development of new instrumental technologies (computational analysis, EPR, HPLC, MMR) for the advanced study of molecular structures and interactions.

Design, synthesis and study of the molecular recognition properties of compounds based on calixarene, with the aim of obtaining new molecules potentially useful in biomedicine.

Screening of molecules on enzyme and receptor targets of therapeutic relevance. Modeling of ligand-protein complexes for SAR studies. Rational design and optimization of bioactive molecules. Design and characterization of the 3D architecture of peptides containing non-proteic amino acids.

Characterization of the anti-tumor action of new compounds or natural products through in vitro assays. Screening of new synthetic and natural compounds as potential pharmacological tools for the manipulation of the tissue levels or actions of endocannabinoids, endovanilloids and other bioactive lipids. Structural and analytical studies of molecules of interest for the pharmaceutical and food industry in complex matrices.

Use of animal and cellular models as biomarkers or biosensors for the study of the effects of nanostructured materials at the bio/non-bio interface. Design, synthesis and characterization of nanoparticles and biodegradable biopolymers for the controlled release and targeting of bioactive molecules in simple and complex biological systems.

3. Natural products

Study of the role of natural products as mediators of biological processes that influence the abundance and distribution of species in Nature and the function of ecosystems.

Identification from marine and vegetable sources of "hits" of pharmacological interest for the pharmaceutical, food and cosmetic industry. Design and synthesis of new leads inspired by natural compounds, and identification of new classes of bioactive molecules. Rational design and in silico screening of natural products. Development of pharmacological chaperones for the treatment of genetic disorders. Characterization of anti-tumor activity in vitro. In vitro and in vivo pharmacological studies on plant cannabinoids.

Identification of nutraceuticals in complex natural matrices and their use in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry. Evaluation of the anti-oxidant activity of agro-foods (both fresh and processed) and design of new products with improved nutritional features. Use of polyfunctional platforms for the enhanced delivery of micronutrients. Stabilization of fruit-based products through the use of functional natural compounds. Realization of new functional drinks to be used in the Hotellerie-Restaurant-Catering sector.

Design, synthesis and characterization of polyhydroxylated phenols as: a) sustainable agro-drugs; b) reversible electron active receptors based on biphenyl scaffolds; c) antitumor compounds; d) inhibitors of tyrosinases/laccases; e) anti-oxidants; f) GABAa receptor ligands; g) anti-misfolding compounds; h) mycotoxin inhibitors. Development of "green" methodologies for organic synthesis of such compounds. Preparation of complexes with cyclodextrins.

4. Profilers of the biomolecules

Analysis of biomarkers in complex biological matrices for studies in the fileds of marine ecology and biomedicine. Metabolomics applied to pharmacokinetics and phytochemistry studies. Structural and analytical studies of molecules of pharmacological and nutritional interest in complex matrices. Lipidomics profiling of endocannabinoids and bioactive lipids implicated in human pathologies.

Identification and characterization of molecular alterations in genes participating in the pathogenesis of solid neoplasies (melanoma, colorectal carcinoma, breast carcinoma). Identification and characterization of cytogenetic alterations involved in tumorigenesis. Translational and associative studies between genetic-molecular and clinical-pathological data. Study of the molecular mechanisms underlying neurological (pediatric epilepsies) and muscular (dystrophies) pathologies.

Use of cellular and animal models for the study of molecular mechanisms modulated by endocannabinoids and endovanilloids in the control of the pathophysiology of synaptic plasticity, whose dysregulation is at the basis of several neurological pathologies, including epilepsy, neuropathic pain, Duchenne's dystrophy, obesity, drug dependence and neurodegenerative and psychiatric conditions.

5. Biotechnology of biological systems and processes

Production of both conventional and non-conventional microbe biomasses in controlled fermentation systems; development and optimization of fermentation strategies; use of agricultural and food industry wastes as inexpensive and ecocompatible substrates for fermentation; isolation and chemical, biochemical and genetic characterization of extremophilic bacteria as potential source of enzymes, lipids, antibiotics, polysaccharides and polyhydroxyalkanoates.

Development, optimization and integrated application of bioprocesses for the production of bio-oils and "bio-hydrogen"; studies of the regulation of the metabolic pathways leading to the production of the energetic vectors; development of efficient catalytic reactions, with low impact on the environment, and understanding of their molecular bases; development of multi-catalysis "cascade" processes for new synthetic methods.

Exploitation of agricultural and food industry wastes (tomatoes, lemons, carrots, fennels) as renewable source of molecules with high added value (polysaccharides, polyphenols, carotenoids, etc.). Waste recycling as a culture medium for extremophilic bacteria to be used for the production of enzymes of biotechnological interest.