Nanotechnology method could aid drug development process

US researchers have found a way to engineer sensors onto the surface of cells to monitor how they interact with each other.

The nanotechnology could help the development of new drugs by allowing scientists to see how substances affect cells within individual patients.

‘We can now monitor how individual cells talk to one another in real time with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution,’ said Jeffrey Karp, co-director of the Center for Regenerative Therapeutics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston.

‘This allows us to understand signalling between cells and interactions with drugs in great detail that should have broad implications for basic science and drug discovery.’

The researchers were able to anchor sensors to the membranes of individual cells, allowing them to monitor soluble signals. So far, it is limited to measuring the activity in the bulk environment of a group of cells.

cell sensor
Using nanotechnology to engineer sensors onto the surface of cells, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital have developed a platform technology for monitoring single-cell interactions in real time

‘Once this is refined as a tool, and used to study drug interactions with cells on a regular basis, there is potential that it may be used for personalised medicine in the future,’ said Weian Zhao, lead author of a study on the research published in Nature Nanotechnology.

‘We may one day be able to test a drug’s influence on cell-cell interactions before deciding on the appropriate therapeutic for each person.’

Preliminary data suggests that this approach could be used to track and monitor the environment surrounding transplanted cells in real time — something that wasn’t possible before.

This would be useful for developing a deeper understanding of signalling events that define a site of inflammation, for example, the stem-cell niche, which may have implications for the treatment of many diseases.