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Researchers at Purdue University have designed a prototype for a new class of tiny devices to examine synthetic cell membranes to speed the discovery of new drugs for a range of diseases such as cancer. The prototype is a chip that holds thousands of tiny vessels sitting on top of a material that has numerous pores. This "nanoporous"material makes it possible to carry out reactions inside the vessels.The goal is to produce "laboratories-on-a-chip"<1/2 in sq that may hold up to a million test chambers, or "reactors," each capable of screening an individual drug, said project leader Gil Lee.
Currently, the researchers are working to duplicate the way cell membranes work on chips in order to determine the potential effectiveness for testing new drugs to treat diseases. Membranes contain a variety of proteins, some of which are directly responsible for cancer's ability to resist antitumor chemotherapy drugs. The proteins work like small pumps that rapidly take chemotherapy drugs out of tumor cells, making the treatment less successful. Therefore, the researchers are trying to uncover drugs that deactivate pumps, allowing the drugs to do their job. The researchers are creating synthetic cell membranes to copy the real thing. They plan to take those membranes to develop chips with up to a 1 million test chambers.
"It's been very hard to study these proteins because they are difficult to produce in large quantities,"Lee reported in the journal Langmuir (February 15, 2005). "The devices we have created offer the promise of making chips capable of running thousands of reactions with the same amount of protein now needed to run only about 10 reactions."