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Setting an interdisciplinary/sectorial/international research network to explore dry storage as an alternative strategy for cells/germplasm biobanking

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DRYNET (Setting an interdisciplinary/sectorial/international research network to explore dry storage as an alternative strategy for cells/germplasm biobanking )

Reporting period: 2017-03-01 to 2019-02-28

THE PROBLEM BEING ADDRESSED-

The current trend is to convert all relevant human activities (industry, economy, transport, farming) into eco-friendly/sustainable processes for the sake of the Planet. Bio-banks (cells, tissues) are normally kept frozen in liquid nitrogen (LN). However, even though effective, LN storage is very expensive, and its production has a heavy carbon footprint. The objective of Drynet is to change the current bio-banking paradigm into a low cost, and zero environmental impact process.

IMPORTANCE FOR SOCIETY -

Social benefits will be directly conveyed by DRYNET through user-friendly, low-cost bio-banking services; and indirectly, through the climate-change mitigation action from CO2 emission reduction.

THE OVERALL OBJECTIVES -

The general objective of Drynet is to verify the feasibility of dry storage for cells and gametes, and it is articulated in three main Objectives:

I. To establish a international, multidisciplinary research team to explore reversible drying in cells and gametes
II. To gather preliminary data set on the induction of reversible drying of mammalian cells through the secondments/knowledge sharing.
III. To prepare a new class of ER and ESR with unique expertise in alternative biobanking methods.

The first objective has been met: Drynet has brought under the formal frame of a Consortium and Partnership agreements an international/intercontinental Team of Scientists with different and complementary expertise.

Objectives 2 & 3 are being implemented.
The work performed from the beginning of the project has been of two kinds:

1) Administrative
2) Scientific

1) Administrative. The first action has been the termination of partner BBMRI-ERIC, and the selection/recruitment of UNIMORE. The first part of the project was fully dedicated to the organization of the kick off meeting and by drafting the Consortium/Partnership Agreements, and organization of the Mid Term Meeting (MTM). Next, we set the webpage, social media tools, and Consortium’s communication tools (newsletters).
Then, the Dissemination and Communication Strategy plan was prepared, and finally, we have dealt with the Ethical Issues raised by the REA's experts.


2) Scientific. The Technical Part B, as well as the Reports uploaded on PP, provide details of the scientific work conduced in the first part of the Project; in this Summary we provide a broad overview of the main scientific achievements.
Water is indispensable for life: yet some organism can survive long periods of time without water. The organisms, called “anhydrobiotic”, are Drynet’s inspiring models. Drynet aims at inducing desiccation tolerance in cells and gametes (male) using a bio mimicry strategy based on two anhydrobiotic models: midge cell lines and tardigrades.

The work has seen a close cooperation between theoretical modeling and empirical testing. Such approach responds very well to the project needs, and significant advancements have been, and are being delivered. A device for controlled drying has been designed on the basis on the de-hydration timing and conditions of midge larvae. The device has been developed from engineers seconded from Partner Unica to NIAS. Analogous device is now being used for de-hydration of spermatozoa and cells with very good results.
Another important hint coming from theoretical modeler is the need for progressive re-hydration of the dry samples. This recommendation is currently under experimental trials, using both spermatozoa and cells, with encouraging results.
The flow of information coming from the model organisms provides not only technical suggestions (like the “drying” chamber) but also basic informations on new xeroprotectants to be added to medium formulation. Concerning this last aspect, interesting work has been conducted on the effects of Late Embryogenesis Abundant proteins on fibroblasts exposed to rapid water subtraction. The finding demonstrate that LEA proteins protect cells from de-hydration, and the work is of particular relevance, given that two of the LEA proteins have never been tested on animal cells.
To summarize, important scientific achievements, behind our expectations, have been delivered already, the Technical Report B lists all the peer-reviewed publications (6, two submitted).

The scientific results are being generated through the secondments/return phases of ESR/ER. The seconded personnel has endorsed enthusiastically the mission of Drynet, and their commitment to the project is robust to say the least. From what can be seen, the staff, particular PhD and Post Doc, is making of Drynet a good opportunity to beef up their respective CV, and to consolidate their laboratory and general skills. The participation to SMEs in the project broadens indeed their opportunities to find jobs outside the university too.

Steady has been also the participation to ESR/ER to national and international meeting to present - often as invited presentations - the partial results achieved in the project; several PIs were invited as speakers in relevant international meetings. Therefore, the planned dissemination within the scientific communities is being amply met.

ESR, PhD students in particular, are very active in heralding the project’s scope to lay audience, particular school alumni, on the occasions of “Laboratory Open Days” organized by the academic partners, thus contributing to the outreaching goals of the project. The other dissemination activities follow the standard path, with public round tables, interviews, European researchers night and press conferences, detailed as well in Technical Report B. Needless to state that in all these occasions, as well as in the published papers, the support provided by the European Union/REA to the project is duly acknowledged, as dictated in the GA, including by the third Country Partners.
Finally, we are tirelessly working to secure continuity to this Consortium. The technical Report B describes all the proposals submitted in the first part of the project. These proposal exploit the partial results generated in the project as a preliminary data. however, even though none of the submitted proposals has been funded so far, we will continue to apply to all forthcoming national and international calls.
The drafting of the report has been the opportunity to see the scientific progress made by the Consortium. The synergy between theoretical modellers and empirical generation of data has identified the weak points of the previous approaches and indicated alternative paths. Robust data on the protection of LEA proteins has been just sent for publication, and experiments on controlled re-hydration – a crucial step – of spermatozoa, are providing exiting results. Overall, the progress beyond the state of art of reversible de-hydration has been significant. It is plausible that the project will continue till its end to deliver first quality science and technological advancements. In any case, our efforts to secure further funding support to the Consortium are steady, and we continue to submit proposal to national and international funding agencies. The project is unique in its kind, and its scientific impact will be significant and long lasting. The development of low cost “dry” biobanks, a long term goal of our project, would bring enormous societal benefits through easily accessible biobanks for medicine.