A trojan horse to fight cancer cells

Title of the research project

Hybrid immune-eluding nanocrystals as smart and active theranostic weapons against cancer -TrojaNanoHorse 

Scientific area

Life science, Chemistry, Physical Engineering

Project coordinator

Valentina Cauda


The project aims to develop novel non-immunogenic nanoparticles, safe for the host organism and biodegradable. They will show a double functionality being theranostic nanoparticles, thus able to perform diagnosis and therapy at the same time. Moreover, no chemotherapeutic drug will be required, thus eliminating any side effects associated to their assumption.


Description of the research project 

Nanomedicine tools for cancer treatment comprise many nanosized systems, so far developed with smart functions such as efficient drug delivery and cell targeting abilities. However they remain still under-characterized in terms of immunogenicity, potential toxicity due to the materials itself or unwanted release of drugs. To overcome these challenges this project aims to develop a new generation of multifunctional therapeutic and diagnostic (thus theranostics) nanosystems displaying non-immunogenicity, improved cancer treatment, cell imaging, and high safety for the hosting organism. The innovative concept behind this approach relies on a core-shell nanosystem with a therapeutically active core, i.e. a TrojaNanoHorse (TNH), here validated against leukaemia. The injectable TNH has a lipid bilayer shell derived from autologous cancer cell membrane, naturally non-immunogenic. The hemocompatibility, antithrombogenicity, and targeting ability with antibodies toward malignant blood cells will be proved during this project. Studies will show the zinc oxide nanocrystal core activation developing toxic reactive oxygen species (ROS) for cancer killing, and its green fluorescence emission. The whole TNH would go beyond the state-of-the-art due to its nature-derived biomimetic shell, absence of drugs, its safety and biodegrading fate, and green luminescent emissions for diagnosis. This project will also develop novel set-up for non-immunogenic therapy and diagnosis, impacting on future technology, new standardized protocols for nanomaterial safety assessment, and study chemical and biological mechanism of ROS development effects on cancer cell. Achieving the ultimate goal of a multifunctional TNH will require multidisciplinary expertise in chemistry, material science, biology, medicine and engineering, opening new horizons as nanomedicine tools for efficient cancer therapy with strong scientific, technological and socio-economic benefits.

Impact on society 

The expected results after 5 years project are the development of a novel theranostic nanosystem, being non-immunogenic, safe-by design and targeted. it will open new nanomedicine fields and it could be applicable to other therapies or function using appropriate nanomaterials.

The tests on the nanomaterial safety would also contribute to the establishment of protocol for safety assessment of nanomaterials, which regulations at present are lacking. in a 10-years perspective, in the best case scenario, good manufacturer practice and clinical tests could start, thus leading to new tools for cancer fight in the direction of personalized therapies.

Valentina Cauda has been interviewed on October 25 by the European Research Council Communication officers, in the occasion of October - Breast cancer month. The interview can be consulted at the following link.

Short CV of project coordinator 

Valentina Cauda graduated in Chemical Engineering in 2004 at Politecnico di Torino and then received her Ph.D. in Material Science and Technology in 2008. After a short period at the University of Madrid, she worked as a post-doc at the University of Munich, Germany on nanoparticles for drug delivery and tumor cell targeting. From 2010 to 2015 she worked as Senior Post Doc at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Torino, and she is at present Associate Professor at Politecnico di Torino. For her research results she received in 2010 the prize for young researchers at the Chemistry Department of the University of Munich, in 2013 she got the Giovedì Scienza award and in 2015 the Zonta Prize for Chemistry. She is author of 73 papers on peer-reviewed international journals with an H-index of 22 (Source: Scopus). 

Project working group 

Valentina Cauda, Associate professor

Giancarlo Canavese, Senior post doc

Marco Laurenti, post doc

Andrea Ancona, PhD student

Marta Canta, PhD student

Beatrice Miccoli, PhD student

Luisa Racca, PhD student

Silvia Appendino, admin & projects

Federica Barbaresco, MD student

Bianca Dumontel, MD student

Katia Di Cesare, MD student

     TrojaNanoHorse project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme  grant agreement No 678151

  • Budget: 1.489.000
  • Start date: 1/03/2016
  • End date: 28/02/2021