Researchers Corral Millions Of Microscopic Membranes

g techniques for determining the two-dimensional structure of groups of membrane proteins and X-ray crystallography to identify the three-dimensional structure of a number of these compounds for the first time.

A potential biomedical application is cell screening of the type required for leukemia patients. Doctors must closely monitor the different kinds of cells in a leukemia patient's blood. Using a small wafer holding millions of micro-patches that have been seeded with proteins that bind to different kinds of cells, it should be possible to obtain measurements of the relative numbers of different cell types by simply covering the wafer with blood, washing it off and counting the cells that remain stuck to different patches. Not only could this method identify and separate different kinds of cells like current methods, but it potentially could measure how well the cells are functioning, Groves suggested.

In a similar fashion, the technique might be used to screen for drugs such as channel blockers that interact with receptors on a cell's surface and interior membranes, the researchers said. The starting point for the project was research that was completed in 1986 and 1987 by Stanford chemistry Professor Harden McConnell. He and his students figured out how to make two-dimensional membranes ­ technically termed "supported lipid bilayers." They also discovered that such membranes resembled the membranes in living cells so closely that they could trick cells into acting as if they were real. This enabled McConnell and his colleagues to perform key research regarding the nature of the interactions between cells.

Groves began working with supported bilayers in 1994. His first discovery was that scoring supported membranes with a pair of tweezers caused them to separate permanently. He took advantage of this characteristic to partition the membrane into triangles and squares. Next, he applied electrical fields to these large membrane patches and found

Contact: David F. Salisbury
Stanford University

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