Protein microchip breakthrough could lead to rapid detection of diseases and drug discovery

8 September 2008

A new method for attaching active proteins to biological microchips that could lead to rapid detection of disease and identification of new drugs has been developed by Scientists at the University of Manchester.

Researchers at the Manchester Interdisciplinary Biocentre (MIB) and the School of Chemistry have unveiled the new technique for producing the ‘protein chips’ in a paper in the online version of the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS).

The protein chips, also called protein arrays, could give scientists the ability to run rapid tests on tens of thousands of different proteins simultaneously and observing how they interact with cells, other proteins, DNA or drugs.

As proteins can be placed and located precisely on a ‘chip’, it is possible to scan large numbers of them at the same time automatically and isolate the data relating to individual proteins.

The Manchester team of Dr Lu Shin Wong, Dr Jenny Thirlway and Prof Jason Micklefield say the technical challenges of attaching proteins in a reliable way have previously held back the widespread application and development of protein chips.

Existing techniques for attaching proteins often results in them becoming fixed in random orientations, which can cause them to become damaged and inactive. Current methods also require proteins to be purified first, which means that creating large and powerful protein arrays would be hugely costly in terms of time, manpower and money.

The Manchester University researchers say they have found a reliable new way of attaching active proteins to a chip.

Biological chemists have engineered modified proteins with a special molecular tag, which makes the protein attach to a surface in a highly specified way and ensures it remains functional.

The attachment occurs in a single step in just a few hours — unlike with existing techniques — and requires no prior chemical modification of the protein of interest or additional chemical steps.

Prof Jason Micklefield from the School of Chemistry, said: “DNA chips have revolutionised biological and medical science. For many years scientists have tried to develop similar protein chips but technical difficulties associated with attaching large numbers of proteins to surfaces have prevented their widespread application.

“The method we have developed could have profound applications in the diagnosis of disease, screening of new drugs and in the detection of bacteria, pollutants, toxins and other molecules.”

Researchers from The University of Manchester are currently working as part of a consortium of several universities on a £3.1 million project aimed at developing ‘nanoarrays’.

These would be much smaller than existing ‘micro arrays’ and would allow thousands more protein samples to be placed on a single chip, reducing cost and vastly increasing the volume of data that could be simultaneously collected.


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