New microsystem for drug-testing

08 August 2011

Testing new drugs can be improved with a new microsystem

Testing new drugs can be improved with a new microsystem.

A University of Southampton nanoscientist is working on a microsystem for more efficient testing of pharmaceutical drugs to treat diseases such as cystic fibrosis, MG (myasthenia gravis) and epilepsy.

Dr. Maurits de Planque of the Nano Research Group at ECS-Electronics and Computer Science will develop a new method to investigate the ion channels that underlie these serious disorders that are used to test the effectiveness of new drugs.

"At the moment, commercial testing of new drugs is carried out using ion channels in living cell membranes. This is a slow and difficult process, not least because producing too many channels actually kills the cells," said Dr. de Planque.

The researchers therefore plan to produce these ion channels without using cells, which is possible with so-called cell-free expression mixtures, and to insert the channels in a very stable artificial cell membrane which should enable faster, less expensive drug testing.

"Researchers have experimented with cell-free mixtures before, but they found that this method was not economical due to the amount of expensive biochemicals required," said Dr. de Planque. "Our proposal to develop a new platform, which uses a couple of microlitres instead of millilitres, will be a very cost-effective way of doing this, particularly when the produced channel is directly inserted in a membrane for drug testing."

Dr. de Planque is conducting this research over a two-year period in collaboration with biological scientists at the University of Southampton. He is Principal Investigator for the project, Microsystems for Coupled Expression and Electrophysiology of Ion Channels, which has been awarded a grant of £125,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

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