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Chemical Biology

A supplement providing a snapshot of the latest developments in chemical biology



Device monitors expression


15 November 2006

A 'living cell array' to monitor cell responses to drugs could lead to a greater understanding of liver disease and its treatment. 

Martin Yarmush and a team at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, US, have developed a microfluidic device that allows them to study gene expression, the production of proteins from genes, in living cells. 

The array can monitor the effects of drugs and disease on living cells.

The array can monitor the effects of drugs and disease on living cells.

Previously, scientists looking at gene expression would have to make destructive measurements, said Yarmush. The cell would be broken up for analysis, giving a snapshot of its response to a stimulus, he explained. Long term responses had to be assembled from separate cell populations. 

Using the microfluidic system, the team was able to monitor gene expression continually, a so-called dynamic study. By altering the genes to express fluorescent proteins and exposing the cells to different conditions, the team could measure the effects on gene expression as a change in fluorescence.

"The technology might help us advance from building static models of disease states to dynamic models of disease processes."
The group developed its array to help study liver biology and disease. Yarmush explained that 'the technology might help us advance from building static models of disease states to dynamic models of disease processes.' The method also opens 'additional possibilities' for screening potential drugs, optimising the timing and doses of combination therapies, and studying the mechanisms underlying cell damage and recovery, he said.

"The platform has already dramatically increased experimental throughput 100-fold."
As well as the benefits from being able to study the living cell, the microfluidic array allows fast, high-throughput analysis which is cheaper than existing options. Yarmush added, 'the platform has already dramatically increased experimental throughput 100-fold, and there is tremendous potential for further scaling.'

Laura Howes

References

KR King, S Wang, D Irimia, A Javaraman, M Toner, ML Yarmush, Lab Chip, 2006,
DOI: 10.1039/B612516f