Biophysical chemistry deals with biomacromolecules and their physical interactions. The inside and outside of living cells are full of biomolecules, from simple ones to sophisticated complex machineries, of which the collective interplay controls biological processes, such as cellular growth and differentiation. Our goal is to understand this interplay at the molecular level. We use a broad multidisciplinary approach covering molecular and chemical biology tools to prepare tailor-made samples and various advanced spectroscopic and microfluidic techniques to characterize the biophysical properties.

Currently our research consists of the following main topics.

We explore the usage of multivalent aptamer-polymers in breast cancer detection and treatment in collaboration with prof. Alan Rowan (Molecular Materials) and dr. Paul Span (Radiation Oncology, RadboudUMC). Aptamers are artificial RNA or DNA oligonucleotides that can be selected from large libraries to interact with small molecules, biopolymers, surfaces, or even whole cells and rival antibodies in affinity and specificity. As polymers we use biomimetic PIC polymers, developed by the Rowan group. Last year these endeavors were expanded towards leukemia and tumor escape in collaboration with the group of drs Willemijn Hobo and Harry Dolstra (Haematology, RadboudUMC).

In a parallel project we use aptamer technology to develop new DNA-responsive hydrogels. DNA-responsive hydrogels, composed of semiflexible PIC polymers equipped with DNA cross-linkers, are engineered to create mimics of natural biopolymer networks that can be controlled by external stimuli. By using cross-linkers based on DNA aptamer nanoswitches, internal control elements are implemented that allow for dynamic control of micro and macroscopic properties with high specificity. By incorporating DNA aptamers that target cell receptors these hydrogels can be used to control cellular behaviour from the outside in.

Synthetic biology and synthetic cells have gained much attention since Craig Venter in 2010 announced the creation of the first fully functioning, reproducing cells controlled by synthetic DNA. Research in this area is relevant for regenerative medicine and sustainable and affordable biochemical pipelines. We are very active in this area in collaboration with the Huck group (IMM, Physical-Organic Chemistry) using a bottom-up approach. To be able to build synthetic life artificial biofunctional and biocompatible environments are necessary. Research in this area is geared towards understanding and exploiting protein synthesis (the result of transcription and translation) in membrane-free protocells and building synthetic biochemical circuits, controlled by translation switches.