Nanoparticles for biological applications and nanomedicine

Our research activities focus on the understanding of the interactions between engineered nanoparticles and biological systems and in the exploitation of this knowledge in the area of nanomedicine, bioimaging, and diagnostics.

Our work is highly multidisciplinary:

  • We design surface coating and (bio)conjugation strategies to direct the interactions between metallic or metal oxide-based nanoparticles and the biological world;
  • We carry out a full physicochemical characterization of these engineered NPs;
  • We characterize their activity in vitro, including their toxicity;
  • We assess their performances in relevant biological applications.

Colloidal synthesis of Gold and Silver nanoparticles

We synthesize metallic nanoparticles (gold and silver) of controlled size and shape by colloidal synthesis in aqueous reaction media.

Spherical metallic NPs
Spherical metallic NPs

Gold Nanorods (AuNRs):
Gold Nanorods (AuNRs)

Organic and supramolecular chemistry

Organic and supramolecular chemistry

An important asset of the group is the capability of chemically synthesize the organic molecules required for NP coating and for the (bio)conjugation strategies, going beyond the limitation of commercial products and kits.

We develop surface coatings based on self-assembled monolayers of ω-functionalized poly(ethylene glycol)-alkyl thiols for gold and silver nanoparticles.

We also synthesize modified dyes, linkers, derivatized peptides and oligonucleotides...

Maus, L.; Dick, O.; Bading, H.; Spatz, J. P.; Fiammengo, R.* ACS Nano 2010, 4(11), 6617-6628.
Maus, L.; Spatz, J. P.; Fiammengo, R.* Langmuir 2009, 25 (14), 7910-7917.

(Bio)conjugation reactions: multifunctional NPs via orthogonal chemistry

We are developing specific coatings as well as matching bioconjugation strategies to graft on the NPs a controlled number of biologically active molecules such as oligonucleotides, peptides, glyco-conjugates, proteins, and small molecules.

We are very interested in multifunctional NPs carrying different ligands or signal molecules (e.g. two different peptides or a peptide and a fluorophore). We immobilize these molecules on the same NP taking advantages of functional groups with orthogonal reactivity on the same NP coating.

Maus, L.; Dick, O.; Bading, H.; Spatz, J. P.; Fiammengo, R.* ACS Nano 2010, 4(11), 6617-6628.


We aim to develop innovative nanoparticle-based vaccine formulations to elicit significant humoral and cellular immune response.

Our research focuses on understanding how nanoparticle design parameters (e.g. size and coating, antigen presentation, and multivalency) influence the activation of the immune system. Nanoparticle-based antigen presentation is expected to have large impact in the coming few years on the development of novel prophylactic vaccines as well as of therapeutic vaccines for established diseases. Part of this research activity contributes to the PRIN project “Nanoplatforms for enhanced immune responses” started in February 2017.

Cai, H.; Degliangeli, F.; Palitzsch, B.; Gerlitzki, B.; Schmitt, E.*; Fiammengo, R.*; Westerlind, U.* Bioorg. Med. Chem. 2016, 24, 1132–1135.

Cai, H.; Degliangeli, F.; Palitzsch, B.; Gerlitzki, B.; Schmitt, E.*; Fiammengo, R.*; Westerlind, U.* Bioorg. Med. Chem. 2016, 24, 1132–1135.

Sensitive MicroRNA Quantification Using DNA-Gold Nanoparticle Probes

We have developed a sensitive assay for the absolute quantification of microRNAs based on enzymatic processing of DNA-functionalized gold nanoparticles, which results in a fluorescence signal.

MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small noncoding RNAs involved in gene regulation. Dysregulated miRNA levels are typical of many pathological conditions including cancer. The quantification of miRNA expression levels has high clinical relevance.

The molecular design of our DNA-gold nanoparticle probes is crucial for the high sensing efficiency of this assay. In fact, the DNA probes are immobilized on top of the poly(ethylene glycol)-based coating of the nanoparticles, resulting in nearly unaltered enzymatic activity. The limit of detection of our assay is as low as 0.2 fmol of miRNA, which corresponds to approximately 100 copies/cell.

Fiammengo, R.* Biomarkers Med. 2017, 11, 69-86.
Degliangeli, F.; Kshirsagar, P.; Brunetti, V.; Pompa, P. P.; Fiammengo, R.* J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014, 136, 2264-2267.
Degliangeli, F.; Pompa, P. P.; Fiammengo, R.* Chem. Eur. J. 2014, 20, 9476–9492.

Nanoparticles crossing the bood-brain barrier (BBB)

We have developed two innovative bioconjugation strategies for the immobilization of leptin on the surface of PEGylated AuNPs.

These NPs are selectively uptaken by epithelial cells of the BBB expressing the leptin receptor. Preliminary measurements indicate these AuNPs can cross an in vitro model of BBB via receptor mediated transcytosis. (in collaboration with Dr. Alexandra Porter and Prof. David Dexter, Imperial College London )

Gonzalez-Carter, D.; Goode, A. E.; Fiammengo, R.; Dunlop, I. E.; Dexter, D. T.; Porter, A. E J. Neuroendocrinol. 2016, 28, doi: 10.1111/jne.12392.

Silver NP based conductive inks for printable electronics

We develop AgNPs-based conductive inks which can be printed and printed and sintered (via femtosecond laser sintering process developed at IIT Milan) on polymeric substrates.

The ink formulation is a simple and highly stable aqueous solution of 24±4 nm diameter AgNPs coated with a thin polymer layer having a silver content of approx. 7% w/v.