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- 04/01/2017

The microbiota-gut-brain axis: an innovative engineering platform will allow studying the connection between the intestinal bacterial flora and brain diseases

AgroFOOD Industry Hi Tech

 The MINERVA project of Politecnico di Milano in Horizon2020

Exploring the connection between neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease and microorganisms that naturally colonize our intestines, usually defined as “intestinal microflora”. This is the ambitious challenge of the MINERVA project, funded by the European Community under the call ERC Consolidator Grant 2016 Horizon 2020 with € 2 million and will last for five years.

The MINERVA project (MIcrobiota-gut-braiN EngineerRd platform to eVAluate intestinal microflora impact on brain functionality) will have two new experimental laboratories as operational headquarters in the Department of Chemistry, Materials and Chemical Engineering “Giulio Natta” of Politecnico di Milano.

“The assumption, on which MINERVA is based, is known as “Microbiota-gut-brain axis” tells the Coordinator Carmen Giordano. “According to this assumption, the microflora in our intestine, more properly called “intestinal microbiota”, has an impact on the brain functions by means of a complex set of biochemical processes that involve peripheral organs following pathways that are still partially unclear. The same connection microbiota-brain has to be considered an assumption based on experimental and clinical evidences that, however, still lacks a proven cause-and-effect connection.”

MINERVA, for the first time, will bring the engineering in this field. “The project aims to create an innovative engineered multi-organ platform, first of its kind, based on cutting edge “organ-on-chip” technologies.” Carmen Giordano says “It will allow us to explore in a new way, by simulating on a laboratory bench, the connections of the microbiota-gut-brain axis under physiological and pathological conditions, thus opening the way to the study of new therapeutic strategies.”

The MINERVA operational core unit will be a group of young researchers specifically recruited, made up of engineers, biologists, biotechnologists that will interface with neurologists and gastroenterologists already involved in the study of microbiota-brain interaction. “MINERVA is a very ambitious project, with very complex technological and scientific challenges of interdisciplinary nature, in an area that represents a new frontier of biological and medical research.”, says Carmen Giordano. “For this reason, the interaction with all the other involved disciplines is truly important. The same design of the platform MINERVA comes from a long confrontation Diego Albani, neuroscience researcher at the IRCCS – Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri in Milan and with Manuela Raimondi, professor of Bioengineering in my department, that coordinates two ERC projects for the development of technological devices to study stem cells.”

The project will last five years, but the Coordinator considers it as a “starting point”: “MINERVA is very challenging, but it represents a unique opportunity to give our contribution to the understanding and treatment of highly debilitating neurodegenerative diseases, that today can only rely on symptomatic and non-curative therapies.”

Carmen Giordano, Coordinator of the MINERVA Project, is Associate Professor of Bioengineering, since 2002 at the Department of CMC “Giulio Natta” at Politecnico di Milano. Graduated in Chemistry at the University of Naples “Federico II,” obtained her PhD in Biomaterials at the same University in 2002, and the Executive MBA at SDA Bocconi in Milan, in 2010.


“This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s

Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 724734)”.