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Monica Fresta

ESR Project 5

Institute of Organic Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland

Vitamin B12 - a drug delivery vehicle for oligonucleotides into cells



Dr. Anis Alouini, SynVec (Industrial)

Prof. Eugen Stulz, University of Southampton (Academic)


Monica Fresta graduated in MSc. Pharmaceutical and Technological Chemistry at University of Catania (Italy) on 09.07.2020 with first class of honours (110/110), a 5-year course (the equivalent to a 3-year degree and 2-year master) which included several chemical, medical and biological subjects.
During these years she not only improved technical skills in chemistry (analytical methods like NMR, HPLC, MS, and chemical probes) but also, enhanced her understanding of the whole drug discovery and development process, giving an insight on the needs of the pharmaceutical industry, and how to optimize times and reduce cost.

Her first research was the MSc. Thesis: Functionalised POSS based composites for Bone Tissue Engineering: synthesis, computational and preliminary biological studies.
The thesis project was focused in three aspects:
- Experimental part: Synthesis, characterization, and functionalisation through 1,3 dipolar cycloaddition of heterocyclic compounds containing an inorganic matrix;
- Computational part: DFT mechanistic studies of the cycloaddition in order to rationalize the regio- and stereoselectivity, In collaboration with University of Milan
- Biological part: Drug release studies and preliminary biological assays.

This thesis project led to her first publication: Functionalised polyhedral oligosilsesavioxane. (POSS) based composites for bone
tissue engineering: synthesis, computational and biological studies. RSC Adv., 2020, 10, 11325. DOI: 10.1039/d0ra01636e.
She also performed an internship for 6 months in a pharmacy during the master degree; and also obtained a pharmacist professional licences.

During the years of thesis, she participated in various conferences
- Sixth international conference on multifunctional, hybrid and nanomaterials - Elsevier, Sitges,
- xvii annual meeting of the pericyclic reaction centre
- in memory of Prof. Pierluigi Caramella, Pavia
- Delegate of University of Catania at "1st virtual symposium on pericyclic reactions and synthesis of carbo- and heterocyclic systems"

This was followed by a  “research stay” for 6 months in the group of Dr. Silvia Osuna in Girona, Spain, mainly sponsored by HPC-Europe program. This period improved her knowledge in the field of computational chemistry, while working on the simulation of different Squalene Hopene Cyclase variants. This work was performed in collaboration with the experimental group of from Prof. Bernhard Hauer (University of Stuttgart, Germany).
This involved studying the conformational dynamics of four variants that improve the catalytic activity towards the cyclization of our enzyme (Homofarnesol) to the Wild-type enzyme, and included the FEL (Free Energy Landscape) to analyse the different structure of variants. The next step was to analyse how the enzyme tunnels are affected by the presence of the introduced mutations on the enzyme sequence. For that purpose, we will use the Caver software, and the results will serve to rationalize the effect of the mutations in the cyclization of Homofarnesol. This research stay was then followed by Monica's first talk, in Girona, Spain: Computational studies of Squalene-Hopene Cyclase variants for the synthesis of terpenoid derivatives.

Computational Chemistry skills:
Gaussian, 16
Gaussian view

Project Description

To date the delivery of oligonucleotides is still a challenge to tackle in the elaboration of new oligonucleotide therapeutics. This project focusses on the development of a novel bioconjugate for the delivery of the oligonucleotide of interest into the cell using a natural compound, vitamin B12, which has the capability to pass through the cell membrane. Monica will introduce some modifications into the vitamin B12 molecule in order to functionalise it to a suitable delivery vehicle. Moreover, she will develop two different linkers, that can be classified either cleavable or uncleavable. Further to the attachment of an oligonucleotide to the system, Monica will perform biological studies to verify the functionality of this system.


This project is carried out in strong collaboration with the following groups:

  • Prof. Annemieke Madder, University of Gent, Belgium

  • Dr Anis Alouini, Synvec, Bordeaux, France

  • Prof. Eugen Stulz, University of Southampton, UK

Project summary in 3 min

Host Laboratory

Research activities in the group of Dr. Dorota Gryko are focused on the development and implementation of alternative technologies to address current sustainability issues of the chemical industry. Based at the Polish Academy of Sciences in the Institute of Organic Chemistry, various projects are related to applied organic chemistry and technology. These are often aligned with, and involve collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry. The group has full access to state-of-the-art laboratories for synthesis, purification and analysis.




Marcina Kasprzaka 44/52

01-224 Warszawa

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