Rossella Castagna

Rossella Castagna received her bachelor (2008) and master degree (2009) in Materials Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano, Italy. In 2010, she joined the Center for Nano Science and Technology (CNST) of the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, pursuing a Ph.D. in Materials Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano under the supervision of Prof. Chiara Bertarelli. Her Ph.D. thesis (2013) focused on the design, synthesis and characterization of photochromic materials, and on the development of smart devices for optical, optoelectronic and nanotechnological applications.
From 2014 to 2015 she was a postdoc at the Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering (DEIB) of the Politecnico di Milano, where she worked on the development of functional materials for lab-on-chip multitarget systems, soft-lithography and DNA biosensing.
During her research activity, she has been a visiting researcher in the group of Prof. Rajesh Menon at the University of Utah, USA (2012), where she worked on the application of photochromic materials in optical lithography below the diffraction limit, and in the group of Prof. Luisa de Cola at the University of Strasbourg, France (2014), where she focused on the development of functional materials for lab-on-chip multiplex sensors.
After a postdoc at the Department of Chemistry, Materials and Chemical Engineering (CMIC) of the Politecnico di Milano, in 2017 she joined the group of Nanoprobes and Nanoswitches of Prof. Pau Gorostiza at IBEC as a recipient of the BEST COFOUND postdoctoral fellowship to work on the development of molecular actuators for the optical control of biomolecular activity. Her research interests are at the interface between material science, chemistry and bioengineering and focus on the design of functional materials for bioengineering and biosensing applications

Group: Nanoprobes and Nanoswitches
Supervisor: Pau Gorostiza
Project: Targeted Covalent Photoswitches for Vision Restoration in Degenerated Retina

Retinal diseases are characterized by a pathologic degeneration of the light-sensitive rod and cone photoreceptor cells that eventually results in blindness. However, even in the complete absence of photoreceptors, the inner retinal neural circuits persist until late stages of the degenerative process, which led the idea of therapeutically targeting the remaining retinal wiring.

In this project, a strategy to photoswitch the protein activity with a covalent attachment to the target protein without a genetic manipulation is proposed. This approach is based on a class of target covalent photoswithces (TCPs) that, in analogy to the mechanism of targeted covalent drugs, is driven to the protein of interest by its binding affinity. This photopharmacology strategy relies on synthetic light-regulated bioactive ligands which are temporary, instead of irreversible genetic modification or invasive surgery of the retina. This reversibility reduces the risks of permanent damage if serious immune response occurs and allow adjust the dose of the drug according to the progression of the disease.

Starting from promising results obtained in the group of Prof. Gorostiza in photopharmacology, this project aims to develop TCPs into a therapeutics or research drugs. By a proper molecular design, we can tailor their optical properties, reactivity and pharmacological properties to achieve prosthetic molecules (or nanoprostheses) to remotely drive the endogenous receptors that remain in the cells to be treated.