ERC Grant for Prof. Olivia Merkel
Novel transport systems for siRNA-based drugs
Olivia Merkel is Professor of Drug Delivery at LMU’s Department of Pharmacy. She researches novel nano transport systems for the targeted local administration of drugs. Her primary focus is on the therapeutic application of short RNA double-strands – so-called siRNAs – which can silence genes involved in pathogenesis in specific cell types.
In her new project RatInhalRNA (Rational and Simulation-Supported Design of Inhalable RNA Nanocarriers), Merkel is seeking to develop efficient siRNA-based drugs that can be administered to the lungs through inhalation. Numerous promising targets in the lungs can be treated with such therapeutics. However, the siRNA formulations currently available are not suitable for inhalation. This is where Merkel’s project comes in, which aims to accelerate the development and optimization of suitable new nano transporters for short siRNA double-strands. Merkel proposes to do this by combining and integrating molecular dynamics simulations and machine learning methods for the first time. To this end, she will synthesize specific polymers that are loaded with siRNAs and tested and analyzed regarding their suitability and efficacy by means of various in vitro and in vivo methods. Using these results, Merkel plans to develop a model that predicts the suitability of improved polymers as efficient siRNA nanocarriers and can therefore reduce the experimental cost and improve sustainability and animal welfare.
Olivia Merkel studied pharmacy at the University of Marburg, where she also completed her doctoral studies. She worked as a postdoc in Marburg from 2009 to 2011 and then as a tenure track professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, USA. Since October 2015, she has been a professor at LMU and has been Chair of Drug Delivery since 2022.