Madhavan Nallani, a researcher at Singapore’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering, hopes his invention will help bring new drug therapies to patients in less time and at lower cost.
Emily Veach reports for The Wall Street Journal about the advantages that these artificial membranes have over live cells:
[Nallani] describes his synthetic membranes as bubble-like, made of polymer and customizable, and grouped into a liquid-based matrix. He says it takes four hours to produce proteins used in his membranes, while it takes four days to produce the same proteins in live cells. Further, a live-cell laboratory requires a large, sterile environment, while with artificial membranes tests can be conducted in a small room atop a standard table or desk. And live cells are more complicated to work with because there is natural variability between individual cells.
Artificial cell membranes are easier and cheaper to manufacture, so much of the preliminary experimentation can be performed more quickly and cheaply than before. Plus, they are more uniform than real cells.
Cell walls are membranes, Veach explains, “and it’s through the proteins found in them that cells communicate with each other, fending off diseases or succumbing to them.” She adds that drug discovery researchers conduct tests to identify the drugs that interact with protein receptors in the cell walls.
Nallani’s process used to make the artificial membranes is illustrated in the video above. He summarized it for The Wall Street Journal: “You break up the cells, take the soup of the cell. Then you add the DNA, then the soup cooks to produce a protein,” he says. Finally, he tests whether or not the protein in the artificial cell binds to a drug molecule.
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