Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Harnessing nature’s diagnostic tools for disease prevention

10.11.2008
The earlier cancer is diagnosed, the better the chance of effecting a cure. A revolutionary new hybrid technology offers the possibility of detecting this and other diseases right at inception.

Within a few years, when the technology comes to market, every doctor’s surgery could have a small, inexpensive device which can test blood on the spot and warn of impending illness before any symptoms become apparent.

With a head start of billions of years over human scientists, nature has developed incredibly complex organisms, tools and systems which we are still struggling to understand let alone emulate.

Put simply, there are things evolution has achieved that people can only dream of. And among these are natural diagnostic tools which help us to recognise when something foreign, a cold virus say, has invaded our bodies and to fight it.

When we have a sore throat and a runny nose, it means our body has identified a disease invasion, diagnosed exactly what the disease is, and created antibodies to fight it. We might feel bad, with our bodies being the battlefield, but after a few days the antibodies win out, the cold virus is neutralised, and equilibrium returns.

Nature’s tools

Scientists have known for some time how the body sets about diagnosing the problem. But the process is so complex, and takes place at such a microscopic level, it has been impossible for us to replicate it to help in the fight against diseases like cancer which the body cannot usually beat off by itself.

An ambitious EU-funded research project, which goes by the acronym of RECEPTRONICS, is taking an unconventional approach by harnessing nature’s tools and combining them with the best of nanotechnology and electronics to produce a revolutionary new method of disease detection.

At the heart of the process is molecule recognition, and specifically recognising individual molecules, something the human body does all the time. For medical purposes, the type of molecule which needs to be recognised is called a biomarker, and its presence can indicate a disease is starting well before there are any other symptoms.

In order to recognise biomolecules, nature has developed receptors, which are mirror images of the molecules being sensed. Every single type of biomolecule has its own receptor in nature.

New level of precision

The researchers on the project have brought together their different disciplines, including biochemistry, bioengineering, nanotechnology and information technology to replicate this process and develop a hybrid device. Results to date show the technology the project has developed is far more precise than anything else which is being used, which allows for much earlier detection of biomarkers.

Explains project coordinator Professor Marco Tartagni of the University of Bologna (IT): “The idea is to use bioengineering to harness the natural biological process for molecule recognition, and to put it together with state-of-the-art electronics.

“The front end of the system is composed of bioengineered receptors that are very similar to those generated by nature and specifically designed to target molecules, put together with man-made microelectronic systems at the back end. The results are very promising and we could soon unveil the best and most precise method ever developed of sensing single molecules.”

Tartagni points out it can be months or even years after the first biomarkers have appeared before full-blown cancer develops. “What is needed is a very smart sensor which can precisely detect concentrations of a wide range of molecules, and the only way to get the required precision is to count molecules one by one. Nature has developed a way to do this, and we are trying to do exactly what nature does,” he says.

Speeding up drug development

While the three-year project officially ended in September 2008, the partners are so enthused by the results they have already achieved that they have agreed to self-fund at least another year of working together.

“We have pioneered techniques which are working very well, and we now need to tie them together. We are working on a compact and affordable point-of-care biomarker detection device which can be made commercially available,” he says.

While mass production of the devices is probably still a few years down the road, an earlier commercial application of the systems RECEPTRONICS has developed is likely to be in the pharmaceuticals industry.

The development of new drugs takes up to 15 years from the time research starts until they are commercially available. This is because the drugs need to be checked in every possible situation and their interaction with every type of cell surface studied.

“Around 95% of this research involves how drugs interact with, and try to regulate, the receptors hosted in body cells. And our new techniques can be used to make instruments which can check and test the molecules very quickly, thus greatly reducing the time required for the drug-screening process,” he says.

It is no exaggeration to say the techniques developed by the RECEPTRONICS researchers could truly revolutionise both diagnostics and the development of new medicines.

Christian Nielsen | alfa
Further information:
http://cordis.europa.eu/ictresults
http://cordis.europa.eu/ictresults/index.cfm/section/news/tpl/article/BrowsingType/Features/ID/90162

More articles from Medical Engineering:

nachricht New technique makes brain scans better
22.06.2017 | Massachusetts Institute of Technology

nachricht New technology enables effective simultaneous testing for multiple blood-borne pathogens
13.06.2017 | Elsevier

All articles from Medical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>