Argovia projects 2022

The listed projects started in 2022.

17.01 B7H3 NANOBODY-PC – B7H3 Nanobody Polymer Conjugates as novel theranostic tool for immuno-oncology Dr. Christian Geraths (CIS Pharma AG, Bubendorf) Prof. Dr. Oliver Germershaus (FHNW Muttenz)
Prof. Dr. Thomas Villiger (FHNW Muttenz)
Dr. Martin Behe (PSI)
(Prof. Dr. Javad Nazarian) (KISPI Zürich)
17.02 CRONOS – Cosmic-Ray Reliability of Nanoscale Oxide Layers in Power Semiconductors Prof. Dr. Renato Minamisawa (FHNW Windisch) Dr. Christian Grünzweig (ANAXAM)
Dr. Arnost Kopta (SwissSEM GmbH, Lenzburg)
17.03 FuncEM – Functional cryo-EM Sample Preparation Dr. Thomas Braun (Universität Basel, Biozentrum) Prof. Dr. Takashi Ishikawa (PSI)
Prof.em. Dr. Andreas Engel (cryoWrite AG)
17.04 META-DISPLAYS – Nanoimprinted Metasurfaces Dr. Benjamin Gallinet (CSEM SA Muttenz) Dr. Dimitrios Kazazis (PSI)
Dr. Richard Frantz (Rolic Technologies Ltd.)

A robust combination in the fight against cancer

In the Nano Argovia project B7H3 Nanobody PC, researchers are developing an innovative nanobody-polymer conjugate — a combination of a cell-specific nanobody and a polymer substrate that can be loaded with different active substances. This is intended for use in the fight against cancer, where the aim is for the nanobody-polymer conjugate to be able to cross the blood-brain barrier and bind to a specific target molecule on the surface of cancer cells. Depending on the active substance that is subsequently released, it may allow the successful combating or imaging of cancer cells in the brain.

Dr. Daniela Winkler and Michael Hackebeil from CIS Pharma produce the polymer carrier used in the Nano Argovia project. (Image: CIS Pharma)

Nanobodies that bind to specific molecules
Despite significant advances in research, cancer remains one of the most common and deadly diseases in the Western world. Nowadays, conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy are often complemented by antibody-containing medications that bind to very specific molecules on the surface of cancer cells. Nanobodies — also known as single-domain antibodies — are developed in order to specifically bind to proteins that are particularly commonplace in this location. If these nanobodies are combined with polymer substrates, which can be loaded with various therapeutic or diagnostic active substances, they also pave the way for new treatment approaches. These nanobody-polymer conjugates are more robust than antibodies and only about a tenth of the size, and the researchers aim to vary their composition to allow them to cross the blood-brain barrier.

In the Nano Argovia project B7H3 Nanobody PC, a team of scientists led by Dr. Christian Geraths (CIS Pharma AG) is combining a newly developed humanized nanobody with a technology developed by CIS Pharma that allows polymer substrates to be loaded with a therapeutic payload or a diagnostic reagent.

The target molecule selected by the team of researchers from CIS Pharma, the FHNW School of Life Sciences, the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and the University Children’s Hospital Zurich (without funding from the SNI) is a protein that is produced in greater quantities on the surface of cancer cells in some 60 percent of cancers. For this reason, the newly developed nanobodies specifically bind to this type of tumor cells in order to release their cargo into them in a controlled manner without attacking healthy cells.

Suitable for therapy and diagnostics
The scientists are also exploring the possibility of using the nanobody-polymer conjugate to specifically target cancer cells with growth-inhibiting substances (e.g. radioactive isotopes). In addition, they are investigating whether the method is suitable for monitoring courses of treatment or for use in early detection.

This approach might also be successful at treating brain tumors (glioblastoma), which has so far only been possible to a limited extent. Here, it is necessary for active substances to cross the blood-brain barrier — and the plan is to achieve this using the nanobody-polymer conjugate.

“We’re optimistic that our modular technology, with its high degree of flexibility, will also be suitable for diagnosing and treating cancers that require substances to cross the blood-brain barrier.”

Dr. Christian Geraths, CSO at CIS Pharma AG

Further information:

Nano Argovia program

CIS Pharma AG

FHNW School of Life Sciences

Paul Scherrer Institute

University Children’s Hospital Zurich


Effect of cosmic radiation on power semiconductors

In the Nano Argovia project CRONOS, an interdisciplinary team of scientists is studying the effect of cosmic radiation on specific layers in power semiconductors. The researchers want to gain a better understanding of which physical processes can lead to failures in order to apply these insights to the development of power semiconductors offering greater robustness.

Seen here loaded with semiconductor chips for the planned irradiation experiments, the sample holder was developed as part of the Nano Argovia project CRONOS. (Image: FHNW Windisch)

Suitable for high currents and voltages
Fossil fuels are out. Instead, an increasing number of applications are being electrified and supplied with energy from renewable sources. This process calls for semiconductor components that are designed to handle high currents and voltages.

Crucially, the functionality of these modern power semiconductors depends on the reliability and integrity of the “gate oxide layer” — a layer between the gate electrode and the semiconductor substrate. Typically just 50–100 nanometers thick, this layer is required to prevent leakage currents. When used in outdoor applications, such as in electric vehicles, solar installations or wind turbines, the gate oxide layers are exposed to large temperature variations, moisture and even cosmic radiation for a period of many years. Despite these harsh environmental conditions, their properties must not change — and the layers must continue to operate reliably over a long period of time without malfunctioning.

Load test with exposure to radiation
In the Nano Argovia project CRONOS, researchers from the FHNW School of Engineering (Windisch), the ANAXAM technology transfer center and the industrial partner SwissSEM Technologies AG (Lenzburg) are investigating how reliably these nanoscale gate oxide layers operate under controlled exposure to cosmic radiation. To do this, the researchers simulate cosmic radiation by irradiating power semiconductors with protons and neutrons while simultaneously applying a voltage. The team, which is led by Professor Renato Minamisawa and Professor Nicola Schulz (both from the FHNW), then subjects the gate oxide layers to electrical and thermal load testing.Developed and supplied by the industrial partner SwissSEM Technologies, the power semiconductors are insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) that can be used in many high-power applications where electric energy needs to be converted into a specific form, for instance in electric vehicles.

By studying the power semiconductors in detail, the researchers hope to gain a better understanding of the physical processes that cause components to fail when cosmic radiation penetrates the gate oxide layers. They then hope to apply this understanding to the development of more-robust power semiconductors.

“For us, the Nano Argovia project CRONOS is an ideal opportunity to work with experts in the field of power semiconductors and material analysis and to benefit from their expertise.”

Dr. Arnost Kopta, CTO SwissSEM Technologies AG

Further information:

Nano Argovia program

SwissSEM GmbH

FHNW School of Engineering


Function test before flash-freezing

In the Nano Argovia project FuncEM, researchers are developing an extension of the cryoWriter system, which can be used to flash-freeze tiny quantities of samples — with no loss of material — before they are examined using cryo-electron microscopy. The aim is for the planned extension module to allow “living” samples to be imaged under an optical microscope immediately prior to the freezing process. This will allow researchers to obtain important information about the functionality of the analyzed structures.

Nicolas Candia and Alejandro Lorca Mouliaà of cryoWrite are working with the Nano Argovia project team to further develop cryoWrite technology. (Image: cryoWrite)

Preparation of tiny sample quantities
It’s hard to imagine modern biomedical and basic research without cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), a technique that allows detailed three-dimensional imaging of tiny structures in biological samples.

The young start-up cryoWrite AG has developed a sample preparation system that can be used to instantly cool tiny quantities of sample materials down to temperatures below -150°C with no loss of material. In the process, the water contained within the sample does not form crystals but rather adopts a glass-like state in a process known as vitrification. As this process leaves the molecules in the cells intact, cryo-EM can then be used to examine them very closely and visualize their three-dimensional structure.

Correlation between structure and function
In many situations, it would be useful for researchers to be able to examine the functionality of target structures in living samples immediately prior to vitrification with a view to analyzing correlations between structure and function.

As part of the Nano Argovia project FuncEM, researchers from the University of Basel, the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and the company cryoWrite are therefore developing and testing an extension module for the cryoWriter system that allows the thin sample layer to be imaged using fluorescence and dark-field microscopy immediately prior to vitrification.

Under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Braun from the Biozentrum, this interdisciplinary team is initially focused on examining thin organelles known as cilia. These threadlike projections play an important role in the movement of eukaryotic cells and in numerous diseases.

The researchers are carrying out their analyses using a newly developed prototype of the cryoWriter system, which allows the sample to be examined directly on the sample holder using optical and fluorescence microscopy.

In this process, the sample environment ensures cell survival and does not restrict the motility of the cilia. The team is also planning to set up a monitoring system to record the movements of these organelles. As these examinations will take place on the same sample holder immediately prior to sample vitrification, they will allow researchers to establish a direct link between functionality and the identified structure.

“The Nano Argovia program is a fantastic opportunity for us to refine our new prototype in collaboration with specialists from the Biozentrum and the Paul Scherrer Institute, thereby improving our opportunities in the marketplace.”

Professor Andreas Engel, CEO at cryoWrite AG

Further information:

Nano Argovia program

cryoWrite AG

Research group Thomas Braun

Paul Scherrer Institute

Foldable and rollable in the future

In the Nano Argovia project META-DISPLAYS, scientists are developing a component for rollable and foldable displays that will specifically alter and control the propagation of light. This “metasurface phase retarder” must be color-neutral and allow good transmission of light — although it should also reduce back reflections and thereby maximize contrast. Above all, it must be extremely thin so that the screen remains highly flexible.

In the future, greater use will be made of flexible screens. (Image: Rolic Technologies)

Various requirements
In the future, there will be an increasing number of foldable and rollable screens, tablets and smartphones. To ensure high flexibility, the components incorporated into these devices need to be thinner than their conventional counterparts. It is also necessary to reduce the back reflection of ambient light in order to maximize display contrast.

To this end, researchers from CSEM Muttenz, the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and Rolic Technologies Ltd. are participating in the Nano Argovia project META-DISPLAYS with a view to developing a “metasurface phase retarder” that — in combination with a polarizer — will meet these conditions while remaining highly transparent.

Promising structured surfaces
A metasurface phase retarder has tiny, nanoscale structures on its surface that enable highly effective control of the phases of an electromagnetic field emitted by a light source. Using state-of-the-art lithographic methods, it’s possible to structure the surfaces of these phase retarders in different ways to achieve the necessary high level of phase retardation of light passing through a layer with a thickness of only a few hundred nanometers.

Led by Dr. Benjamin Gallinet (CSEM), the team will test different surface nanostructures with a view to identifying a combination that can reduce the thickness of the phase retarder while achieving high transmission and color neutrality. For this, the researchers are using nanotechnology-based lithography methods (ultraviolet nanoimprint lithography) that can also be applied on an industrial scale.

“A metasurface device will enable Rolic to strengthen its competitive advantage as a material supplier to the display industry. In addition, metasurface technology has great potential in other segments of consumer electronics — for example, as flat screen elements in smartphones.”

Dr. Richard Frantz, Head of Development, Rolic Technologies Ltd.

Further information:

Nano Argovia program

Rolic Technologies Ltd.


Paul Scherrer Institute