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Master Thesis

Pharmaceutical Biotechnology

The Master’s thesis is the scientific core of your studies: you choose your specialist courses with a view to the topic of your thesis, which you determine before starting your studies. Based on the theoretical foundations of the study programme, you answer a specific question in this research field. You work out solutions that are relevant for research, industry and society, often in co-operation with national and international partners. Depending on your topic, you work in a research group at the Institute of Biotechnology in Wädenswil or externally with an industrial or research partner. Through the thesis you not only demonstrate your knowledge and skills, but also the ability to successfully integrate into a research group and expand your knowledge in your specific field of scientific expertise.

Working procedure

For the Master’s thesis you focus on a particular area of pharmaceutical biotechnology as part of a research group (see next section). You plan and work mainly independently, in consultation with your supervisor and any external research and industry partners. In this way you not only deepen your scientific and technical competence, but also gain useful experience of project management. Pursuing a long-term research project successfully tests and trains your flexibility, for example, when scientific hypotheses need to be reexamined or experimental designs have to be adjusted. A timeframe of eight months is envisaged for the thesis, which you can fit into your studies according to your individual situation.

Topics for the Master’s thesis

You select the topic for your Master’s thesis in one of the following research groups:

Measurement and Sensor Technology

  • Development of electrochemical and optical sensors for critical parameters in (bio)process control (pH, pO2, biomass concentration, ion concentration, subtrates and metabolites).
  • Application of sensors to bioprocess monitoring and control, with a special focus on single-use systems.
  • Development and application of methods for near-line and off-line analysis of metabolites and substrates in biotechnological cultivations (HPLC, LC/MS).

Contact: Prof. Dr. Caspar Demuth

Bioprocess Technology

Biochemical Engineering

  • Transfer of biopharmaceutical production processes and facility design: Scale-down and scale-up of productions of biotherapeutics with microorganisms, animal and human cells (focus on inoculum production, fermentation, cell harvest and cell separation, fed batch and continuous, up to pilot scale)
  • Scale-up of productions of cell therapeutics: Expansions of human mesenchymal stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells at clinically relevant numbers under consideration of bioengineering aspects (USP, DSP, serum-free, microcarriers)
  • Computational Fluid dynamics and Particle Image Velocimetry: Usage for development and further development of bioreactors and their peripheral elements, and for determining the bioengineering key parameters and optimum process parameters (re-usable and single-use systems for USP)
  • Clean Food: Development of cell culture-based equipment that is used in food and food ingredient productions up to industrial scale
  • Novel biopesticides: Development of the USP of production processes aimed at microbial and insect cell biopesticides (liquid- and solid-state fermentations)

Contact: Prof. Dr. Dieter Eibl

Molecular Biology

  • Production of recombinant proteins used in diagnostics and therapy. Cloning and expression of genes in E. coli, Bacillus megaterium, Pichia pastoris, Sf9-, CHO- and HEK cells.
  • Production of stable reporter cell lines: specific promoter driven expression of GFP and luciferase
  • Screening of environmental isolates for production of antimicrobial activity and identification of the active compounds in cooperation with the group of Rainer Riedl (Organic and Medicinal Chemistry, ICBT, ZHAW).
  • Characterisation of microorganisms by metagenomics, culturomics, phenomics approaches
  • Development of methods in molecular biology and immunology: identification of antigenic proteins, production of monoclonal antibodies, standards for qPCR, identification of genes responsible for production of secondary metabolites
  • Validation of pharmaceutical processes in microbiology and clean room technology

Contact: Prof. Dr. Martin Sievers

Pharmaceutical Technology

Phytopharmacy

  • From medicinal plant to finished product: Quality assurance across the value chain at our industry partners from Pharma, Food and Cosmetics.
  • Standardised extracts compliant to Ph Eur: Research for a rational and evidenced based Phytotherapy.
  • Phytochemical analysis: UHPLC-DAD-FLR-ELSD-RI-MS, GC-FID, HPTLC.
  • Bioautography: Chromatography coupled to Bioassays for activity and toxicology screening of  natural products.
  • Fractionation and isolation of natural products.
  • Galenics of “Phyto” products: ointments, tablets, rinsing solutions, candies.
  • Biotechnology of medicinal plants: in vitro cultivation of wild plants for biodiversity conservation, induction of callus and development of suspension cultures in collaboration with research group cell culture technology.

Contact: Dr. Evelyn Wolfram

Bioprocess Information Technology

Environment Biotechnology

  • Cultivation of anaerobic Microorganisms
    Anaerobic, non-pathogenic organisms sometimes place high demands on cultivation, whether in bench scale or in laboratory bioreactors. We work with both anaerobic bacteria and archaea in pure and mixed cultures and characterize their kinetics, metabolism and potential to produce renewable materials or energy.
  • Bioprosess Technology of microbial Methanisation
    The microbial conversion of CO2 and H2 to CH4 is an elegant method of producing renewable methane. The implementation of bioprocess technology however is challenging. We are currently interested in the optimal design of bioreactors with gaseous substrates and products, process simulation and the development of efficient concepts for process control.
  • Food Waste – Reduction and Value Recovery
    Residual materials accumulate along the entire food value chain, partly avoidable, partly not. Here it is necessary to ascertain quantities, clarify potentials, determine reduction possibilities, characterise the pollution with plastics and develop recycling possibilities. We deal, for example, with ideas for plastics analysis in recycled fertilizers or the use of insects for the recycling of food waste.
  • Agricultural Biogas
    In Switzerland, agricultural residues and farmyard manure clearly represent the greatest potential for increasing biogas production. The challenge now is to develop or adapt concepts and technologies to tap this potential. Both new market models and new biogas plant configurations are in demand.
  • Microbial Hydrolysis
    Biogas production in conventional anaerobic digestion plants is often limited because the first step of biological degradation, the enzymatic hydrolysis of natural polymers, is not sufficiently rapid. We deal with the targeted use of hydrolyzing aerobic or anaerobic microorganisms for substrate digestion in order to achieve a faster and further degradation of organic molecules in biogas plants.
  • Waste Water – Components, Ecotoxicology and microbial Treatment
    The treatment of organically contaminated waste water from households and industry is one of our ongoing topics. The aim here can be to develop miniaturised degradation and inhibition tests in the microplate reader, to develop new concepts for closing nutrients and energy cycles from wastewater or to apply ecotoxicological tests to quantify environmental effects.

Contact: Prof. Dr. Urs Baier

Cell Biology

The research of the group of Cell Physiology and Cellular Engineering covers a broad spectrum of cell biology with a focus on human stem cell research, cell-based assays/reporter systems, cellular engineering and immunology (generation of novel antibodies).

  • Human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)
    We established the technology to generate iPSCs at the ZHAW in order to bring the full potential of pluripotent stem cells to the biotechnology industry. The group of cell physiology and cellular engineering can therefore help its partners to develop applications based on stem cell biology such as: Test systems based on stem cells, a steady supply of specialized cell types through targeted differentiation of iPSCs, the identification and/or preparation of active ingredients from iPSCs.
  • Development of cell-based test assays
    We actively collaborate with project partners to develop customized standard cell-based assays or improve already existing ones. Examples of assay developed during previous collaborative projects are: Caco-2 permeability assay, Osteoclast differentiation, cytotox assays etc.
  • Primary cell culture and establishment of cell lines
    We identify, isolate and/or immortalize primary cells. Those primary cells or already established clones can also be further manipulated (CRISPR/Cas) to modify their characteristics, improve their performances or adapt them for new applications. Using this technology we can establish novel cell based assays, improve recombinant protein expression or develop cells with novel functions.
  • Generation of novel antibodies towards complex proteins
    Many clinically relevant proteins such as G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) or ion channels have a complex structure with multiple membrane spanning regions. Therefore purification of the proteins as a source of antigen to raise specific antibodies is not feasible. Peptides representing a very small fraction of the protein of interest are not in the native conformation and often lead to lower affinity antibodies. Our method relies on the fact that the full-length human protein in its native conformation is used as an antigen which results in the generation of high affinity antibodies.

Contact: Prof. Dr. Jack Rohrer

Cell Culture Technology

  • Cell therapeutics and bioactive compounds for cosmetics industry: Cultivation of human mesenchymal stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells in bioreactors (serum-free, microcarriers, single-use bioreactors up to 50 L).
  • Diagnostic and therapeutic monoclonal antibodies: Screening studies and process optimizations with suspension cells (focus on USP, fed batch and continuous processes, chemically defined culture media, single-use and reusable bioreactors up 200 L).
  • Viruses and protein complexes: Development of insect cell-/baculovirus-expressions-vector-system-based processes (focus on USP, fed batch processes, chemically defined culture media, single-use and reusable bioreactors up 200 L).
  • Sustainable plant cell culture-based-ingredients for cosmetics products: From cell line establishment, via cell line screening, up to medium and process development (focus on USP, fed batch processes, elicitation with light or/andchemical substances, single-use and reusable bioreactors up to 100 L).
  • Clean Food : Development of cell culture-based production processes for food and food ingredients (focus on USP and process development).

Contact: Prof. Dr. Regine Eibl