A new technology platform for testing drugs will simplify the process and bring long-term benefits to the pharmaceutical industry.
Scientists at the University of Southampton and Birkbeck College, University of London are developing a platform consisting of an array of artificial cell membranes that will enable more efficient testing of potential new drugs.
The Bilayer Platform project, which begins this month, has been awarded £1.2 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to develop a new technology that uses artificial bilayer lipid membranes to evaluate the effectiveness of drugs on ion channels.
Professor Hywel Morgan and Dr Maurits de Planque at the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) will use the clean room technology in the new Mountbatten Building at the University of Southampton to build this novel platform for parallel on-chip electrophysiology. Each membrane patch will contain different ion channels.
According to Dr de Planque, ion channels play a pivotal role in a wide variety of physiological processes and diseases and are consequently of considerable interest to the pharmaceutical industry. It is for this reason the Southampton group has teamed up with the Birkbeck group, led by Professor Bonnie Ann Wallace, who are international experts in ion channel structure and function.
At the moment, pharmaceutical companies use electrodes to test entire cells, which can be expensive and involves testing a number of ion channels within the cell.
About 60 per cent of drugs work on membrane proteins (of which ion channels are a subclass) and the effectiveness of the drug is gauged by measuring activity in the ion channel as a result of administering the drug.
"By putting the ion channel into an artificial membrane, we only have one type of channel, no living cells and a relatively inexpensive method for testing for several of these types of channels at once," said Dr de Planque.
The project, which will take just over three years, will benefit public and private sector industries, as well as driving new research for the treatment of diseases such as chronic pain, epilepsy, and certain types of heart disease. The new technology platform will have many applications for drug discovery and testing long after the research period ends.
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