Seminars at the Faculty of Informatics

DATE: Tuesday, March 15th, 2011
SPEAKER: Dr. Luca Varani
PLACE: USI Università della Svizzera italiana, room 250, Main Building (Via G. Buffi 13)
TIME: 13.30

Molecules carry out their function by interacting with each other.
Understanding and characterizing such interactions is critical to advance our knowledge of biological processes and to develop strategies to interfere with them. Whereas detailed, atomic-level information on biomolecular complexes has been traditionally obtained through often long and expensive experimental techniques, computational structural Biology is a novel, exciting field with very rapid development and high expectations.
Computer predictions, however, are not always accurate, so it is important to experimentally validate them. What has largely been missing to achieve this goal is a concerted effort by different branches of the life sciences such as biology and informatics.

Here we used experimentally validated computational biology to characterize the interaction of a human antibody with Dengue virus, a neglected disease causing 20,000 deaths and 500,000 hospitalizations per year. Structural analysis of our computational models allowed us to rationally engineer the antibody and increase its ability to neutralize the virus by 50-fold.

Luca Varani graduated in chemistry at the University of Milan (Italy) with a thesis in structural biology. He then moved to the MRC-Laboratory of Molecular Biology, obtaining a PhD degree at the University of Cambridge (UK) in 2000. His PhD research focused on the role of RNA and protein interactions in regulation of gene expression at the post-transcriptional level, culminating in the determination of the largest NMR structure and one of only 3 RNA-protein complexes available at the time. He also contributed to show the role of RNA structure in dementia, proving the viability of RNA as a therapeutic target.

After a brief spell in Florence, he moved to Stanford University (USA) as a postdoctoral fellow, being awarded an "EMBO Fellowship" in 2003. At Stanford he completed the first NMR study on TCR-pMHC complexes, proposing a novel approach to the systematic characterization of protein-protein interactions.

In October 2007 he joined the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (Bellinzona, CH) as a group leader in Structural Biology.

HOST: Prof. Rolf Krause

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