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Optogenetics in cancer research

New research project on tumour development in colorectal cancer

Anna Stierschneider receives funding for basic research project as part of the ESPRIT programme

In the latest FWF research project, Anna Stierschneider, Senior Postdoc at IMC Krems, is researching the development of new therapeutic approaches to treating cancer.

The latest research project by Anna Stierschneider, Senior Postdoc at the IMC Krems University of Applied Sciences, aims to improve the understanding of tumour development and progression in colorectal cancer and to contribute to the development of advanced therapies. In the FWF-funded basic research project, new stem cell lines will be developed to investigate the activation of Toll-like receptors (TLR) in stem cells and tumour cells. Optogenetics will be used to activate the receptors using blue light. The knowledge gained is expected to help develop new therapeutic approaches to treating colorectal cancer.

Cooperation with renowned experts from medicine and biotechnology

At its last meeting, the Board of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) approved 21 out of a total of 67 applications for the ESPRIT postdoctoral programme. The aim of the Early-Stage Programme: Research, Innovation, Training (ESPRIT) programme is to promote the careers of highly qualified postdoctoral researchers from all disciplines. Anna Stierschneider´s project aims to make a significant contribution to the understanding of tumour development and progression in colorectal cancer and thus contribute to the development of advanced therapies.
The basic research project, funded by the Austrian Science fund (FWF), will focus on medical biotechnology and will be carried out in cooperation with Helmut Dolznig from the Medical University of Vienna and Lasse Jensen of Linköping University. Anna Stierschneider is supported by her mentors Franz Herzog and Christoph Wiesner from IMC Krems. 

Tumour microenvironment and toll-like receptors: a complex network with influence on cancer development

With approximately 1.2 million new cases and 600,000 deaths reported each year, colorectal cancer is the third most common form of the disease, and the fourth most common cause of cancer-related death. Recent studies have shown that the progression and spread of this type of cancer depends not on the characteristics of the tumour cells themselves, but on their surroundings – teh so called tumour microenvironment. This complex network of cells, molecules and tissues surrounds the tumour and has a critical influence on its development and progression. It has been shown that within this environment, the activation of different Toll-like receptors (TLRs) in stem cells has both stimulatory and inhibitory effects on the growth and spread of cancer cells, through both direct and indirect interactions with tumour cells. In order to gain a clearer picture of these interactions, the research group at IMC Krems aims to develop new stem cell lines that will allow reversible and precise activation of TLR signalling pathways in terms of position and timing. 

Optogenetics as an innovative method for investigating receptor signalling pathways

Conventional methods for studying receptor signalling are based on genetic manipulation of the receptor concerned or treatment with natural activators. However, these approaches often result in irreversible changes in the cells. Anna Stierschneider will use the principle of optogenetics to develop cell lines that are more precise in their positioning and timing, as well as more operationally and financially advantageous. This involves attaching a photosensitive protein from yellow-green algae to the receptors in question, which can then be activated by blue light. This will enable the researchers to study the specific effects of the TLR signalling in and on stem cells, on tumour cells, and on various cells in the tumour microenvironment. The goal is to use these knowledge to  develop new, targeted approaches for the treatment of colorectal cancer.