Innovative approaches for controlling living systems provide a paradigmatic solution to major societal problems. Existing strategies frequently lack the specificity and efficacy demanded by modern medicine and biotechnology. More worrying, for certain applications, even after decades of research there are still no reasonable strategies to control living systems. Thus, the overarching challenge of the programme BioInterfaces in Technology and Medicine (BIFTM) is to develop new key technologies to control living systems.
Both our own body and bacterial biofilms are regulated by complex interactions between endogenous genetic programmes and environmental cues (biological, chemical and physical). Thus, in order to manipulate a particular property of these systems at the molecular level, we must develop specific synthetic tools designed to manipulate unique, key “biointerfaces”. These we define as points of contact between cells and specific elements of their environment (biotic or abiotic), and between molecules inside cells. Therefore, an absolute prerequisite is a deeper understanding of the living systems at the molecular level. The programme aims to develop novel concepts for innovative materials and technologies for the precise manipulation of the cell behaviour via these points of contacts.
The scientists in this programme will conduct comprehensive analyses on cell cultures, biofilms, animal models and patient samples, in order to decipher the natural control mechanisms of cell division and cell differentiation. On this basis, rational design shall not only provide multifunctional synthetic molecules for the manipulation of cells in bioreactors or within the organism itself; it shall also facilitate the development of biomimetic substrates for 3D cultivation of stem cells. Further priorities are the production of tailor-made polymeric surfaces for the control of biofilms and of functionalised polymers for application in regenerative therapies. The basic principles developed in this programme will then be transferred into new technologies and applications in biotechnology and medicine. New therapies for the treatment of degenerative diseases of the muscles, or the central nervous system, as well as for the development of stimuli-responsive bioactive surfaces for bioreactors and medical implants will also be enabled by means of these key technologies.