New biosensor microchip could speed up drug development: Stanford researchers

A new biosensor microchip that could hold more than 100,000 magnetically sensitive nanosensors could speed up drug development markedly, Stanford researchers say.

A microchip with an array of 64 nanosensors. The nanosensors appear as small dark dots in an 8 x 8 grid in the center of the illuminated part of the backlit microchip. (Photo courtesy of Sebastian Osterfeld)

The nanosensors analyse how proteins bond – a critical step in drug development.  The ultrasensitive sensors can simultaneously monitor thousands of times more proteins than existing technology, deliver results faster and assess the strength of the bonds.

Stanford researchers have developed a new biosensor microchip that could significantly speed up the process of drug development. The microchips, packed with highly sensitive "nanosensors," analyse how proteins bind to one another, a critical step for evaluating the effectiveness and possible side effects of a potential medication.

A single centimetre-sized array of the nanosensors can simultaneously and continuously monitor thousands of times more protein-binding events than any existing sensor. The new sensor is also able to detect interactions with greater sensitivity and deliver the results significantly faster than the present "gold standard" method.

"You can fit thousands, even  tens of thousands, of different proteins of interest on the same chip and run the protein-binding experiments in one shot," said Shan Wang, a professor of materials science and engineering, and of electrical engineering, who led the research effort.

"In theory, in one test, you could look at a drug's affinity for every protein in the human body," said Richard Gaster, MD / PhD candidate in bioengineering and medicine, who is the first author of a paper describing the research that is in the current issue of Nature Nanotechnology, available online now.