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MMBio - Marie Curie Training Network

Tea Umek

  • PhD student
  • Group of Prof.  Dr. Edvard Smith, Clinical Research Centre, Stockholms Laens Landsting (SLL)
  • Department of Laboratory Medicine, Karolinska Institute.
  • Contact email:
  • MMBio start date: 1st December 2017

In 2011, I enrolled in the bachelor’s degree program in Biotechnology at the Biotechnical Faculty of the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. The curriculum covered biotechnological advances in agriculture, food production, environmental protection, pharmacy and medicine. As I have always been interested in innovative treatment of diseases, I decided to study the use of Nanotechnology in disease therapy for my bachelor’s thesis.
In 2015, I’ve continued my studies at IMC University of Applied Sciences in Krems, Austria where I enrolled in a master program of Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology. In addition to life sciences, I’ve gained insight in business, law and regulations important for the pharmaceutical industry.  While studying the field of Nanomedicine for my bachelor’s thesis I took an interest in the development of novel drugs and drug delivery systems. To evolve my existing knowledge, I decided to focus on the topic also for my master thesis. During 6 months of practical training I participated in research of strand invading oligonucleotides with my main project being Optimization of the Rolling Circle Amplification assisted by bisLNA openers as a method to detect specific sequences in dsDNA. I’ve graduated in 2017.

Training and Transferable Skills:

  • DNA and RNA isolation
  • Gel electrophoresis
  • RT-PCR
  • cell culturing
  • mammalian cell transfection
  • bacterial cell culturing
  • plasmid cloning and purification
  • fluorescence microscopy

Research Projects:
Huntington’s disease is a fatal, neurodegenerative disorder.  Expansion of the CAG trinucleotide repeat region in huntingtin gene (HTT) and consequent expression of toxic gain-of-function protein leads to mobility, psychological and cognitive impairment. In addition, it has been shown that the toxic effect is contributed by mutated RNA transcript. Anti-gene oligonucleotides (ON) target repeats in the DNA and reduce gene expression. They have advantage over antisense ON in reducing not only mutated protein levels but mutated mRNA as well. My projects as a PhD student will focus on targeting RNA, B-DNA and non-B-DNA structures with conjugates and non-conjugated chemically modified ONs. The main objectives will be: to target genes where specific structures, such as expanded repeats, in the RNA or DNA may be of importance for gene expression and disease control, starting with HD. Chemically modified ONs will be used to increase the specificity and stability of the interaction between the identified constructs and their target. Next, a system will be established to determine repeats’ length, leading to a possibility of investigate the influence of the bound ONs on genomic repeat expansion. Furthermore, Rolling Circle Amplification will be developed and used as a method for determination of ON’s invasion into dsDNA. The obtained information will be further used to study other trinucleotide repeat disorders, such as Myotonic dystrophy type 1, Spinocerebellar ataxia type 3 and Friedreich ataxia.