Project presentations on the website

Every project supported by Gebert Rüf Stiftung is made accessible with a web presentation that informs about the core data of the project. With this public presentation, the foundation publishes the funding results achieved and contributes to the communication of science to society.


A Specific Mechanosensitive Bacterial Tumor Therapy – Microbials 2016


Für den Inhalt der Angaben zeichnet die Projektleitung verantwortlich.


This project is one of the five winners of the call 2016 «Microbials – Direct Use of Micro-Organisms». Project partners: Stanford University, Rockfeller University, Institut Pasteur, University of Lausanne

Project data

  • Project no: GRS-057/16 
  • Amount of funding: CHF 374000 
  • Approved: 02.11.2016 
  • Duration: 05.2017 - 09.2020 
  • Area of activity:  Microbials, seit 2016

Project management

Project description

With the advent of genome engineering and synthetic biology, we chave the ability assemble cellular systems naturally found in the microbial world. For example, we can repurpose sensing and effecting systems into a single bacterial machine in order to perform a variety of complex tasks in a defined context. Consequently, engineering and programming bacteria into “smart therapeutics” that patrol a host to detect and treat diseases now appears as a realistic endeavor. Such strategies may help us treat a variety of conditions including cancer, infectious diseases or immune disorders.
However, a major obstacle in developing successful bacterial therapies is the lack of specificity of their action as they may target both healthy and sick tissues. Here, we propose to design and engineer a mechanosensitive bacterial therapy (mBaT). mBats consist in a bacterial chassis system able decorated with adhesive structures that help direct ist attachment to specific diseased tissue. Then, mBats are programmed with the ability to inject effector proteins into host cells upon contact. To produce this, we assemble specifica dhesion components at the surface of the bacterium and combine this with effecting components allowing the bacterium to eradicate tumor cells by translocation of toxic effectors. Altogether, mBaTs has the potential to become a highly specific cell-based treatment of tumors.

What is special about the project?

Most therapeutic approaches to treat diseases consist in developping moleculas that act on specific receptors or markers of disease tissue. Here, we go beyond the current paradign of disease treatment by repruprposing microbial systems to generate a cell-based therapeutic. mBats are autonomous, meaning that they can target the diseased tissue without guidance.


We have succesfully developped a toolbox allowing for the design and implementation of receptor display at the surface of a bacterium. As such, the system can be repruprosed on many bacteria and can be used to tune the specificity of many other cell-based therapeutics. We are currently implementing this adhesion system in pathogens susceptible to eradicate a targeted tissue. In particular, we are currently leveraging engineered mBats to specifically target breast cancer cells growing within healthy cells, thereby representing an early proof of concept. In addition, engineering mBats stimulated further ideas in using display strains to treat other types of diseases. For example, we will seek to adapt this system to the treatment of infectious diseases by stimulating contact between a bacterium and a foreign pathogen, thus initiating its degradation. Altogteher, our approach will stimulate the community in engineering contact-stimulated cell ased therapeutics.


“Control of bacterial adhesion to target mammalian cells using VHH display”, X. Pierrat, A. Cont, J. Wong and A. Persat, manuscript in preparation;
“Mechanomicrobiology: how bacteria sense and respond to forces”. Y. Dufrene and A. Persat, Nature Reviews Microbiology 18


Persons involved in the project

Alexandre Persat, project leader
Xavier Pierrat, PhD student
Alice Cont, PhD student
Zainebe Al-Mayyah, Lab technician

Last update to this project presentation  10.02.2021