Report: Proteins can be engineered as widely adaptable 'bioelectronic' sensors

DURHAM, N.C. -- Biochemists have developed a technology that will enable proteins to be engineered as sensitive, specific "bioelectronic" sensors for a vast array of chemicals. These engineered proteins, when attached to electrodes, can detect a specific chemical in a complex mixture and produce an electric signal reflecting its identity and concentration.

The researchers already have demonstrated that they can engineer proteins to detect glucose in blood serum and the sugar maltose in beer showing that such proteins can pick specific molecules out of complex mixtures without interference or fouling from other constituents.

The scientists, led by Duke University Medical Center biochemist Homme Hellinga, reported the new approach to biosensors in the Aug. 31 issue of Science. Their research is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research and the National Institutes of Health. Besides Hellinga, other authors are David Benson, currently at Wayne State University; David Conrad, Duke; Robert de Lorimier, Duke; and Scott Trammell, now with the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington.

"Since these engineered proteins are robust and potentially miniaturizable, we believe they will provide a basis for a vast array of chemical sensors," Hellinga said. "For medical applications, you could imagine a multitude of sensors on a tiny chip that physicians could use at the patient's bedside to immediately determine from a drop of blood the concentrations of drugs, or metabolites such as glucose.

Anesthesiologists could use such biosensors to instantly measure during surgery the concentration of anesthetic or key metabolites such as epinephrine in a patient's body, rather than having to rely on the less accurate monitoring of vital signs. Thus, with these biosensors, in many cases you would no longer need expensive chemical laboratories and time-consuming clinical analysis."

Also, said Hellinga, an implantable glucose sensor would enable constant monitor

Contact: Monte Basgall
Duke University

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