1. (upper panels) Fluorescent inorganic nanoparticles and organic nanostructures for imaging and sensing intracellular and extracellular environment. (Lower panels) Vascular and neuronal networks of mouse-spinal cord: X-ray Phase Contrast Tomography (XPCT). From left: longitudinal distribution of moto-nuclei; interface white-grey matter where axons enter in the neurons cells; XPCT of single neuron soma; XPCT of white and grey matter; radial and longitudinal view of vascular network.
1. (upper panels) Fluorescent inorganic nanoparticles and organic nanostructures for imaging and sensing intracellular and extracellular environment. (Lower panels) Vascular and neuronal networks of mouse-spinal cord: X-ray Phase Contrast Tomography (XPCT). From left: longitudinal distribution of moto-nuclei; interface white-grey matter where axons enter in the neurons cells; XPCT of single neuron soma; XPCT of white and grey matter; radial and longitudinal view of vascular network.

At NANOTEC several high resolution techniques are available for fine imaging of biomolecules, living cells and tissue. Mainly we focus on engineering of high-resolution molecular and semiconductor-based tools for fine fluorescence imaging, scanning probe-based microscopy and spectroscopy, and X-ray optics and X-ray imaging.

Fluorescent Tools for Bioimaging of Cells and Tissues 

We prepare various kinds of fluorescent imaging tools for in vitro and in vivo imaging, mainly of cells and tissues. This class of labelling agents include organic thiophene fluorophores, and semiconducting quantum dots (QDs) or rods (QRs). Our thiophene and QD-based reagents show strong luminescence that is independent of the microenvironment, may be designed to work in the optical window of biomatter (600 – 900 nm range), display rapid internalization and excellent retention inside cells, and appear to be non toxic at least in short-term experiments. In addition, in the case of inorganic nanoparticles large surface/volume ratios enable biofunctionalization of the surface and binding of functional moieties for specific targeting studies. Another set of imaging tools includes fluorescent ratiometric capsule-based sensors, which have fluorescent probes embedded in their cavities, allowing to overcome some of the main limitations of freely injected probes (e.g. intracellular sequestration or inactivation, non-specific binding, toxicity). These sensor platforms are suitable for long-term intracellular and extracellular sensing of multiple chemical parameters (ions and metabolites) in living and metabolizing cells, including tumor cells or cells exposed to candidate drugs.

Nanoscale Characterization of Biomaterials and Nanostructured Surfaces

We employ state-of-the-art microscopy techniques (e.g., Scanning Probe Microscopies like Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) and Scanning Tunneling Microscopy (STM), Scanning Electron Microscopy, Confocal Laser Microscopy) for studying the morphological and chemico-physical properties of nano(bio)materials and nanostructured surfaces, as well as to gain a full understanding of the correlation between the fabricated structures and the resulting functionality. By means of STM, AFM and Scanning Force-Spectroscopy analyses, we have extensively characterized the morphological, mechanical and conductive properties of solid-state protein films and self-assembled peptide fibrils to be used as bridges in hybrid molecular junctions. Finally, we synthesize and characterize biomimetic and biocompatible surfaces with stiffness modulation and/or a biopolymeric coating, for eliciting controlled cell self-patterning, proliferation and differentiation with important implications in regenerative medicine.

Biomedical Imaging

The team in Rome has a large experience in X-ray optics and X-ray imaging. In recent years the team is exploiting this competence for the biomedical imaging of neurodegenerative diseases. In particular, faults in vascular (VN) and neuronal networks (NN) of the spinal cord are associated with serious neurodegenerative pathologies. Because of inadequate investigation tools, the knowledge of the fine structure of VN and NN is fragmentary, which represents a crucial problem. Conventional 2D imaging yields incomplete spatial coverage leading to possible data misinterpretation, whereas standard 3D computed tomography imaging achieves insufficient resolution and contrast. X-ray high-resolution phase-contrast tomography (XPCT) allows the simultaneous visualization of three-dimensional VN and NN of ex-vivo mouse spinal cord at scales spanning from millimeters to hundreds of nanometers, withoutcontrast agents, or sectioning or destructive sample-preparation. We image both the 3D distribution of micro-capillary network and the micrometric nerve fibres, axon-bundles and neuron soma. The high quality of the images obtained allows a quantitative study, enabling the extraction of relevant biomedical information.

Our approach is well suitable for pre-clinical investigations of neurodegenerative pathologies and spinal-cord-injuries. In this framework, we used XPCT to study degenerations in vascular and neuronal networks of the spinal cord affected by experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), an animal model of multiple sclerosis. Preclinical studies have demonstrated that mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) therapy ameliorates EAE. By means of XPCT, we investigated 3D sub-micron damage in the VN and NN in EAE with and without MSC treatment. We have identified a deficit in the Vascular-Network, including capillaries, never detected before, and which is reduced through MSC treatment. Similarly, the attack to myelin and neurons also appears to be reduced by MSC administration.

This study paves the way to advanced study of immune-mediated CNS diseases, and to the accurate monitoring of the effectiveness of treatment.

Facilities & Labs

Characterization Lab @ Lecce

Bio Lab @ Lecce

Toma Lab @ Rome


Loretta_delMercatoLoretta L.

del Mercato

CNR Researcher

Ilaria_PalamaIlaria E.


CNR Researcher



CNR Researcher



CNR Researcher



CNR Researcher



Associate Researcher



CNR Researcher



CNR PostDoc



CNR PostDoc


  1. L. L. del Mercato, F. Guerra, G. Lazzari, C. Nobile, C. Bucci, R. Rinaldi. Biocompatible multilayer capsules engineered with a graphene oxide derivative: synthesis, characterization and cellular uptake. Nanoscale. 8, 7501-7512 (2016). ISSN: 2040-3372; doi: 10.1039/C5NR07665J.
  2. I. Bukreeva, A. Mittone, A. Bravin, G. Festa, M. Alessandrelli, P. Coan, V. Formoso, R.G. Agostino, M. Giocondo, F. Ciuchi, M. Fratini, L. Massimi, A. Lamarra, C. Andreani, R. Bartolino, G. Gigli, G. Ranocchia, A. Cedola. Virtual unrolling and deciphering of Herculaneum papyri by X-ray phase-contrast tomography, Scientific Reports 6, 27227 (2016). ISSN: 2045-2322; doi: 10.1038/srep27227
  3. L. L. del Mercato, M. M. Ferraro, F. Baldassarre, S. Mancarella, V. Greco, R. Rinaldi, S. Leporatti. Biological Applications of LbL Multilayer Capsules: From Drug Delivery to Sensing. Advances in Colloids and Interface Science, 207, 139–154, (2014). ISSN: 0001-8686; doi: 10.1016/j.cis.2014.02.014.
  4. De Luca, M.M. Ferraro, R. Hartmann, P. Pilar Rivera-Gil, A. Klingl, M. Nazarenus, A. Ramirez, W.J. Parak, C. Bucci, R. Rinaldi, L.L. del Mercato. Advances in Use of Capsule-Based Fluorescent Sensors for Measuring Acidification of Endocytic Compartments in Cells with Altered Expression of V-ATPase Subunit V1G1. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces, 7, 15052−15060 (2015). ISSN 1944-8244; doi: 10.1021/acsami.5b04375.
  5. L. L. del Mercato, M. Moffa, R. Rinaldi, D. Pisignano. Ratiometric Organic Fibers for Localized and Reversible Ion Sensing with Micrometer-Scale Spatial Resolution. Small, 11, 6417-6424 (2015). ISSN: 1613-6810; doi: 10.1002/smll.201502171.
  6. M. Fratini, G. Bukreeva, F. Campi, G. Brun, P. Tromba, D. Modregger, G. Bucci, R. Battaglia, M. Spanò, H. Mastrogiacomo, F. Requardt, A. Giove, A. Bravin and A. Cedola. Simultaneous submicrometric 3D imaging of the micro-vascular network and the neuronal system in a mouse spinal cord. Scientific Reports 5, 8514 (2015). ISSN: 2045-2322; doi: 10.1038/srep08514.
  7. M. Fratini, I. Bukreeva, G. Campi, F. Brun, G. Tromba, P. Modregger, D. Bucci, G. Battaglia, R. Spanò, M. Mastrogiacomo, H. Requardt, F. Giove, A. Bravin, A. Cedola Simultaneous submicrometric 3D imaging of the micro-vascular network and the neuronal system in a mouse spinal cord, Scientific Reports 5, 8514 (2015)ISSN: 2045-2322; doi: 10.1038/srep10771
  8. M. Fratini, I. Bukreeva, G. Campi, R. Spano’, M. Mastrogiacomo, F. Brun, G. Tromba, F. Giove, A. Cedola. Study of the vascular network in the spinal cord using advanced techniques Journal of Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine 8, 192 (2014). ISSN: 1932-6254.
  9. Di Maria, I.E. Palamà, M. Baroncini, A. Barbieri, R. Bizzarri, G. Gigli, G. Barbarella, Live Cell Cytoplasm Staining and Selective Labeling of Intracellular Proteins by Non-toxic Cell-permeant Thiophene Fluorophores. Organic & Biomolecular Chemistry, 12: 1603-1610 (2014). ISSN: 1477-0520; doi: 10.1039/C3OB41982G


Other selected publications

  1. L.L. del Mercato, P.P. Pompa, G. Maruccio, A. Della Torre, S. Sabella, A.M. Tamburro, R. Cingolani, R. Rinaldi, Charge transport and intrinsic fluorescence in amyloid-like fibrils. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 46, 18019-18024 (2007). ISSN: 0027-8424; doi: 10.1073/pnas.0802398105
  2. L.L. del Mercato, G. Maruccio, P.P. Pompa, B. Bochicchio, A.M. Tamburro, R. Cingolani, R. Rinaldi, Amyloid-like fibrils in elastin-related polypeptides: structural characterization and elastic properties. Biomacromolecules, 9, 796–803 (2008). ISSN: 1525-7797; doi: 10.1021/bm7010104
  3. A. Zacheo, A. Quarta, A. Mangoni, P.P. Pompa, R. Mastria, M.C. Capogrossi, R. Rinaldi, T. Pellegrino. CdSe/CdS Semiconductor Quantum Rods as Robust Fluorescent Probes for Paraffin-Embedded Tissue Imaging. IEEE Transactions on Nanobiosciences, 10, 3, 209-215 (2011). ISSN: 1536-1241; doi: 10.1109/TNB.2011.2166404.
  4. I.E. Palamà, F. Di Maria, I. Viola, E. Fabiano, G. Gigli, C. Bettini, G. Barbarella. Live-cell-permeant thiophene fluorophores and cell-mediated formation of fluorescent fibrils. Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), 133, 17777–17785 (2011). ISSN: 0002-7863; doi: 10.1021/la2065522.
  5. L.L. del Mercato, A.Z. Abbasi, M. Ochs, W.J. Parak. Synthesis and characterization of ratiometric ion-sensitive polyelectrolyte capsules. Small, 7, 351-363 (2011). ISSN: 1613-6810; doi: 10.1002/smll.201001144.
  6. A. Quarta, A. Curcio, H. Kakwere, T. Pellegrino. Polymer Coated inorganic nanoparticles: tailoring the nanocrystal surface for designing nanoprobes with biological implication. Nanoscale, 4, 11, 3319-333 (2012). ISSN: 2040-3364; doi: 10.1039/c2nr30271c.
  7. L.L. del Mercato, A.Z. Abbasi, M. Ochs, W.J. Parak. Multiplexed Sensing of Ions with Barcoded Polyelectrolyte Capsules. ACS Nano, 5, 9668–9674 (2011). ISSN: 1936-0851; doi: 10.1021/nn203344w
  8. I.E. Palamà, A.M.L. Coluccia, G. Gigli, M. Riehle. Modulation of alignment and differentiation of skeletal myoblasts by biomimetic materials. Integrative Biology, 4, 1299-1309 (2012). ISSN: 1757-9694; doi: 10.1039/c2ib20133j.
  9. I.E. Palamà, S. D’Amone, A.M.L. Coluccia, M. Biasiucci, G. Gigli. Cell self-patterning on uniform PDMS-surface with controlled mechanical cues. Integrative Biology, 4, 228-236 (2012). ISSN: 1757-9694; doi: 10.1039/c2ib00116k.
  10. I.E. Palamà, S. D’Amone, A.M.L. Coluccia, G. Gigli. Micropatterned polyelectrolyte multilayer films promote alignment and myogenic differentiation of C2C12 cells in standard growth medium.  Biotechnology & Bioengineering, 110, 586-596 (2013). ISSN: 0006-3592; doi: 10.1002/bit.24626.


  1. NaBiDiT – Nano-Biotecnologie per Diagnostica e sviluppo di Terapie innovative; Regional project APQ Ricerca Scientifica—Reti di Laboratori Pubblici di Ricerca – (2010-2012).
  2. MAGNIFYCO – Magnetic nanocontainers for combined hyperthermia and controlled drug release; Project ID: 228622 – FP7-NMP (2009-2013)
  3. RINOVATIS – Rigenerazione di tessuti nervosi ed osteocartilaginei mediante innovativi approcci di Tissue Engineering; MIUR-PON (2013-2015), Grant PON02_00563_3448479.
  4. VOXEL – Volumetric medical X-ray imaging at extremely low dose; EC H2020 – FET OPEN -2014-2015 – RIA;  (2015-2019)
  5. Multimodal experimental and theoretical approach for the study of the Spinal Cord in healthy and diseased subjects” Progetto Giovani ricercatori del Ministero della Salute (GR-2013-02358177). Bando 2013
  6. BiominAB-3D – Revealing the composition and formation mechanism of carcinogenic asbestos bodies in human lungs; MSCA-IF-2015-EF – Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships (IF-EF), Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships (2016-2018)

Latest News

Costituzione del nuovo Ispc-Cnr

IV incontro - nuovo Istituto di Scienze del Patrimonio Culturale - CNR

Lecce, 20 aprile 2018

Aula Rita Levi Montalcini - ore 11:00

CNR NANOTEC c/o Campus Ecotekne

Per comunicazioni inerenti il processo di riorganizzazione potete scrivere a:

Tutte le informazioni che riguardano gli incontri, compresi gli indirizzi dello streaming, li trovate sul sito

Informazioni logistiche:

Nanotechnology day '18

Nanotechnology day '18

Lecce, 18 aprile 2018

CNR NANOTEC c/o Campus Ecotekne

Torna con un calendario denso di appuntamenti, tra seminari, mostre, dimostrazioni sperimentali, visite ai laboratori, torna  il tradizionale appuntamento con la “Settimana della cultura scientifica”, in programma all'Università del Salento dal 16 al 21 aprile 2018, nato dalle linee guida del progetto ministeriale “Piano Lauree Scientifiche”, al quale l’Ateneo salentino aderisce sin dalla fondazione nel 2003 per i Corsi di Laurea in Fisica e in Matematica.

Oltre millecinquecento studenti attesi dalle scuole superiori di Lecce, Brindisi e Taranto per partecipare agli incontri in programma che si terranno presso le sede del Dipartimento di Matematica e Fisica “Ennio De Giorgi” e il CNR Nanotec.

L’obiettivo della “Settimana della cultura scientifica”, che si aprirà con una giornata interamente dedicata alle Nanotecnologie, è quello di avvicinare i giovani alla Scienza.

Programma completo dell'evento

Loretta del Mercato, si aggiudica l'ERC STARTING GRANT 2017

Loretta del Mercato, si aggiudica  l'ERC STARTING GRANT 2017

uno dei bandi più competitivi a livello europeo.

Lecce, 6 settembre 2017 

Lo European Research Council, che promuove la ricerca di eccellenza in Europa, nei giorni scorsi ha reso noti i nomi dei 406 vincitori della selezione ERC STARTING GRANT 2017, il bando tra i più competitivi a livello internazionale.

Su 3085 progetti presentati, 406 i progetti selezionati a cui sono stati destinati i 605 i milioni di euro di investimento. 48 le nazioni di provenienza dei ricercatori, soltanto 17 gli Italiani che condurranno le loro ricerche nel nostro paese, tra cui Loretta del Mercato, ricercatrice dell'Istituto di Nanotecnologia del Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche di Lecce.

Un importante riconoscimento alla ricerca nel settore della medicina di precisione condotta presso il CNR NANOTEC, un indiscusso premio al talento della giovane ricercatrice che, a 38 anni e un contratto a tempo determinato, sarà a capo del progetto "Sensing cell-cell interaction heterogeneity in 3D tumor models: towards precision medicine – INTERCELLMED".

Il progetto, il cui obiettivo è affrontare uno dei problemi più spinosi della ricerca sul cancro, ovvero la difficoltà nel trasformare i risultati delle ricerche scientifiche in applicazioni cliniche per i pazienti e che vedrà coinvolto l'Istituto tumori "Giovanni Paolo II" di Bari, si propone di sviluppare nuovi modelli in vitro 3D di tumore del pancreas, alternativi ai modelli animali, ingegnerizzati con un set di sensori nanotecnologici che consentiranno di monitorare le interazioni delle cellule tumorali con il loro micorambiente, verificare l'appropriatezza delle terapie prima della somministrazione ai pazienti oncologici e quindi prevedere la risposta dei singoli pazienti ad una o più terapie antitumorali.

La realizzazione di queste piattaforme 3D multifunzionali consentirà di superare le evidenti differenze intercorrenti tra "modelli animali" ed esseri umani fornendo dati attendibili ed in tempi più rapidi rispetto ai dati ottenuti tramite lunghi e costosi procedimenti di sperimentazione sugli animali. Le tecnologie e i modelli sviluppati saranno estesi anche ad altre forme di tumori solidi nonché impiegati per studi nell'ambito della ingegneria tissutale e della medicina rigenerativa.

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