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Metals in medicine and biological systems


Academic year 2022/2023

Course ID
BIO0218 Pds GEN
Prof. Giuseppe Ferrauto
Degree course
[0101M21] Molecular Biotechnology
2nd year
Teaching period
First semester
Course disciplinary sector (SSD)
CHIM/03 - general and inorganic chemistry
Formal authority
Type of examination
Written and oral
Type of learning unit
General and Inorganic chemistry
Basis of organic chemistry (functional groups)
Biological macromolecules
Basis of chemical spectroscopies

Sommario del corso


Course objectives

The main aims of this course are:

-Understanding the chemo-physical properties of the most important classes of metal elements (noble metals, transitions metals, lanthanides) and their interaction with biological systems;

-understanding of the role of metal ions and respective complexes in Medicine (both in therapy and in diagnostic field);

- knowing the structural and catalitic function of metals in metalloproteins, their role on the control of different biological processes;

-understanding the  toxic effects of overloading of metals in biological systems

-knowing the main diseases caused by over accumulation or deficiency of metals

-understanding the effect of environmental contamination by metals on human health

-learning the basis of the preparation of a written paper (in English) on a topic related to application of metals in medicine or the role of metals in biological systems


Results of learning outcomes

The course merges knowledges of chemistry with knolwedges of cell biology. 

Students will know the role of metals in biological systems, their use for therapy and diagnosis and the diseases correlated to metals.

Group of students will deepen a topic related to the role of metals in biological systems and/or in medicine and will prepare a written work on this research. In this way they will improve soft skills as:

  • Teamwork.
  • Organization.
  • Collaboration.
  • Creativity.
  • Communication.
  • Time management.
  • Public speaking.


1.Introduction on the use of metals in medicine.

2.Basis of chemistry of metals and general properties of metal ions.

3.Metal ions in biological systems: Metabolism, nutritional aspects, structure of active sites in metalloproteins and metalloenzymes, mechanistic and physico-chemical characterization, biomimetic chemistry, binding and transport of O2, electronic transfer, activation of small molecules by metal ions.

4.Metals in therapy and diagnostic

a.Metal based contrast agents for MRI, TC, US, optical imaging and PAI;

b.Radiopharmaceuticals in Nuclear Medicine for radiotherapy and diagnostic;

c.Metals complexes as: anticancer, antiviral, antimicrobial, anti arthritis, antiulcer drugs, in neurosciences;

d.Metals in gene therapy and antisense technology;

5.In vitro diagnostic tools based on metals. Biosensors.

6.Metals in the environment, chemical speciation, biological cycles, biotransformation, bioacumulation, molecular mechanisms of toxicity and metals induced diseases.



The following classes of metals will be analysed:

a) alkaline (Li, Na, K, …) and earth alkaline (Be, Mg, Ca,… )metals;

b) transition metals (Fe, Mn, Co, Ni, ...)

c) lanthanides (Gd, Eu, Yb,...)

d) noble metals (Au, Ag, Cu, Pt)




Course delivery

The course will be an experimentation of "flipped classroom". Part of the lessons will be in presence and part of them will be on-line.

The course will be divided into three steps:

1) Theoretical lessons where students will be introduced by the teacher to the role of metals in biological systems and in medicine (in presence and /or pre-recorded).

2) Supervised deeping of chosen topics and reading/analysis of papers about the use of metals in medicine.

3) Preparation of a group written report on the chosen topic.

4) Collegial activity of reflection on the executed work.

All parts of the work will be guided by the teacher in a continuous exchange of information.






Learning assessment methods

The final exam will the preparation of a written paper on a chosen topic related to the course. 

The work will be a group acrivity consisting in i) choice of topic (in agreement with the teacher), ii) study of problem and analysis of bibliography, iii) preparation of a written report on the topic.




Support activities

The teacher is avaiable for any question or doubt through mail, face to face or webex meetings

Suggested readings and bibliography


Slides, power points with audio comments and review will be provided by the teacher. 

Some suggested books are the following ones:

1.“Principles of Bioinorganic Chemistry”, S. J.Lippard e J. M. Berg, (1994), University Science Books, Mill Valley, Califórnia.

2.“Bioinorganic Chemistry: Inorganic Elements in the Chemistry of Life”,W. Kaim e B. Schwederski, (1994), Wiley, Chichester, U.K.

3. “Biocoordination Chemistry”, D. E. Fenton, (1995), Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

4. “Inorganic Biochemistry”, J.A. Cowan, (1997), Wiley-VCH, New York.

5. “The Biological Chemistry of the Elements”, J.J. Fraústo da Silva e R.J.P. Williams (1991), Clarendon Press, Oxford, U.K.

6. “Bringing Chemistry to Life- from Matter to Man”,(1999), R.J.P. Williams e J.J. Fraústo da Silva, Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

7. "Metal Ions in Biological Systems", H.Sigel Ed., Marcel Dekker, New York, 1974-1996, vols 1-presente.




Le modalità di svolgimento dell'attività didattica potranno subire variazioni in base alle limitazioni imposte dalla crisi sanitaria in corso. In ogni caso è assicurata la modalità a distanza per tutto l'anno accademico.


Students are required to register for the course both on campusnet ( and on the Moodle ( platform.

The didactic material will be present on both platforms.

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