New microscopic probes may soon improve drug testing

New microscopic probes may soon improve drug testing

  • April 2017
  • Posted By Kathryn Mccormick

Engineers have developed new microscopic probes to measure the amount of electrical activity in animal cells, which may lead to a significant advance in drug-screening methods.

Working at Rice University, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, Jacob Robinson invented nanoSPEARs, nanoscale suspended electrode arrays, to provide researchers with access to the electrical activity in the cells of animals without causing them any physical harm. The nanoSPEARs can replace the glass pipette electrodes, placed by hand each time they are used. Details of Professor Robinson’s research are included in the journal, Nature Nanotechnology.

Professor Robinson said that the current method of glass pipette electrodes could lead to an experimental bottleneck in the study of degenerative diseases and synaptic behaviour. The initial aim of his research was to study large animal groups under various conditions to screen drugs and test genetic factors that may cause electrical signalling errors in synapses.

Nano-SPEARs work by penetrating the body wall muscle of an immobilised animal, and recording the electrical activity present in nearby cells. The animal is released, having suffered no physical harm, and the next animal is then studied in the same way, and so on. Professor Robinson claims this is a much faster means of recording electrical activity, and because the test subjects suffer no physical damage during the process, means that individual animals can be tested repeatedly. This may significantly improve the data-gathering process, information that could then be applied to identify disease characterisation and also drug interactions.


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