A Focus on our PhD Students – Andrea Montero-Oleas

I was born in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, located right in the centre of the world. I completed my undergraduate studies in Biotechnology Engineering at the University San Francisco of Quito. In my undergraduate project, I designed an aptamer-based biosensor for the quantification of proteins. Later I received my master degree in Experimental Biomedicine at the University of Castilla la Mancha in Spain. For two years, I worked as an associate professor at the University San Francisco of Quito, where I was involved in research related to the design of biosensors for use in agriculture. During my academic and professional experiences, I met many people whose enthusiasm for their scientific field awakened in me a great fascination for scientific research. I also had the opportunity to belong to the NanoAndes network, which focuses on cooperation in Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies between Andean countries and also with France. I had pleasant and enriching experiences while participating in three NanoAndes schools, and that’s where my motivation to study for a Ph.D. in chemistry was born. Moreover, through this network, I had the pleasure to meet Dr Xavier Cattoën (France), Professor Sara Bilmes (Argentina) and Dr Yoann Roupioz (France), with whom I am currently doing my Ph.D. thesis in co-supervision between the University of Buenos Aires (Argentina) and the University Grenoble Alpes (France) thanks to an IDEX scholarship.

My project focusses on the design of a nano-vehicle based on the solgel synthesis of mesoporous silica nanoparticles with a gold core (Au/ mSiO2) such that an enzyme can be reversibly entrapped and delivered specifically into cells. The enzyme release will be thermally triggered by irradiating the gold core in the plasmon band. For the nano-vehicle to meet the current quality parameters for drug design, a full understanding of the synthesis process is of utmost importance. Since the sol-gel chemistry is quite well described, it is certainly the best option to achieve the quality traceability requirements in nanoparticles synthesis. Another important requirement of our system is that the pores of the nanoparticle should be large enough to retain the enzyme inside and not at the surface. So far, by tuning the sol-gel procedures, we have been able to obtain Au/mSiO2 with pore sizes ranging between 3 to 10 nm, which should enable the encapsulation of large proteins. We are also working on the computational simulation of the enzyme-silica interaction by molecular dynamics; this will allow us to understand how to functionalize the nanoparticles with reactive groups to improve the enzyme entrapment.

During the time of my PhD, I’m also strongly supported by the University San Francisco of Quito in Ecuador. Indeed, my plan for the future is to apply the knowledge and experience in Sol-Gel chemistry acquired in Argentina and France to contribute to the development of nanosciences in my own country.