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New microsystem for better drug-testing

06 July 2011 Southampton, University of

A University of Southampton nanoscientist is working on a new 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 ECS-Electronics and Computer Science at the University will develop a new method to investigate the ion channels that underlie these serious disorders and 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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