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Nanoscopic Screening Process to Speed Drug Discovery

Researchers at Wake Forest University are using nanotechnology to search for new cancer-fighting drugs through a process that could be up to 10,000 times faster than current methods. The Lab-on-Bead process will screen millions of chemicals simultaneously using tiny plastic beads so small that 1,000 of them would fit across a human hair.

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Researchers at WakeForestUniversity are using nanotechnology to search for new cancer-fighting drugs through a process that could be up to 10,000 times faster than current methods.

The “Lab-on-Bead” process will screen millions of chemicals simultaneously using tiny plastic beads so small that 1,000 of them would fit across a human hair.  Each bead carries a separate chemical, which can be identified later if it displays the properties needed to treat cancer cells. One batch of nanoscopic beads can replace the work of thousands of conventional, repetitive laboratory tests.

“This process allows the beads to do the work for you,” explains Jed Macosko, project director and assistant professor of physics at WakeForest.  “By working at this scale, we will be able to screen more than a billion possible drug candidates per day as opposed to the current limit of hundreds of thousands per day.”

Other members of the research team at WakeForest include co-principal investigator Martin Guthold, an associate professor of physics, and Keith Bonin, department chair and professor of physics.

Macosko said the team and their collaborators at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, are developing a device that will automate the Lab-on-Bead process and permit parallel processing to attain faster screening results.  The WakeForest researchers are also working with biotechnologists at HarvardUniversity in Boston and Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France, which are providing the chemicals being screened for drug candidates.  Biotech company NanoMedica has shown interest in commercializing the process.  The North CarolinaBiotechnologyCenter, a private, nonprofit corporation funded by the N.C. General Assembly, has provided $75,000 in funding for the project.

Wake Forest’s Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials, which maintains ongoing research programs in the areas of health and medicine, energy technologies and synthesis of nanomaterials, will facilitate some elements of Lab-on-Bead development.

Source: WakeForestUniversity