Scientists have developed a “membrane on a chip” of human cells. It allows you to continuously monitor how drugs and infectious agents interact with our cells. Soon, a new development can be used to test potential drug candidates for COVID-19. The results of the study were published in the last two articles in Langmuir and ACS Nano.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge, Cornell University, and Stanford University said their device can mimic any type of cell — bacterial, human, or even hard plant cell walls. Their experiments also showed how exactly COVID-19 attacks human cell membranes and, more importantly, how it can block.
The devices were formed on chips, preserving the orientation and functionality of the cell membrane, and were successfully used to control the activity of ion channels, a class of proteins in human cells. They are the target for more than 60% of approved pharmaceuticals.
Cell membranes play a central role in biological signaling, controlling everything from pain relief to virus infection. They act as the “gatekeeper” between the cell and the outside world. The team decided to create a sensor that retains all the critical aspects of the cell membrane — the structure, fluidity, and control of ion movement — without the laborious steps necessary to maintain cell life.
The device uses an electronic chip to measure any changes in the overlying membrane removed from the cell. This allows scientists to safely and easily understand how a cell interacts with the outside world.
The new invention combines cell membranes with conductive polymer electrodes and transistors. To create membranes on a chip, the Cornell University team first optimized the process of producing membranes from living cells, and then, working with the Cambridge team, combined them with polymer electrodes in such a way as to preserve all their functionality. Hydrated conductive polymers provide a more “natural” environment for cell membranes and allow reliable control of its function.
Stanford’s team has optimized polymer electrodes to monitor changes in membranes. The device no longer relies on living cells. They are often technically difficult to sustain and require significant attention, and measurements can continue for a long period of time.
Since membranes are made from human cells, it is like a biopsy of the surface of this cell – scientists have all the material that needs to be present, including proteins and lipids, but there are no problems with using living cells.
This type of screening is usually done by the live-cell pharmaceutical industry, but our device of scientists provides an easier alternative.
To date, the goal of a study sponsored by the United States Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been to show how viruses, such as influenza, interact with cells. Now, DARPA has provided additional funding to test the device’s effectiveness in screening potential drug candidates for COVID-19 in a safe and effective way.
Given the significant risks associated with researchers working on SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the project’s scientists will focus on creating viral membranes and fusing them with chips. Scientists can identify new drugs or antibodies to neutralize the viral peaks that are used to enter the host cell. This work is expected to begin on August 1.