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Molecular printing : a state-of-the-art technology

Karsten Haupt is Pro­fes­sor of bio­chem­istry at UTC-Com­pieg­ne and has direct­ed UTC’s Enzyme and Cel­lu­lar Engi­neer­ing (GEC) lab­o­ra­to­ry since 2012. As a spe­cial­ist in mol­e­c­u­lar print­ing, he has been ranked as the world’s lead­ing expert on this cut­tingedge tech­nol­o­gy by the web­site ‘Expertscape’.

This is a tech­nol­o­gy that makes it pos­si­ble to pro­duce ‘syn­thet­ic anti­bod­ies’, supramol­e­c­u­lar recep­tors designed to recog­nise and bind to tar­get mol­e­cules. What does this mean in prac­tice? “It involves mould­ing a syn­thet­ic poly­mer around an indi­vid­ual tar­get mol­e­cule (this is called a tem­plate), which will then cre­ate a cav­i­ty in the poly­mer. This tem­plate mim­ics the tar­get mol­e­cule in size, shape and chem­i­cal func­tion­al­i­ties and will con­tain the chem­i­cal groups that allow inter­ac­tions with the tar­get mol­e­cule,” answers Prof. Haupt. 

His­tor­i­cal­ly, in the 1980s, mol­e­c­u­lar­ly imprint­ed poly­mers (MIPs) were first used in the chem­i­cal field. But it was not until the ear­ly 1990s that the first sci­en­tif­ic pub­li­ca­tion was pub­lished show­ing that it could be used as an anti­body mimet­ic in an ELISA-type immunoas­say. “Since then, these mate­ri­als have been used to replace bio­log­i­cal anti­bod­ies in any form of appli­ca­tion requir­ing inter-mol­e­c­u­lar recog­ni­tion,” he adds. In the years 2000, mol­e­c­u­lar print­ing reached such a stage of matu­ri­ty that oth­er fields of appli­ca­tion were wide­ly opened up. “These include cos­me­tol­ogy, food pro­cess­ing, envi­ron­men­tal analy­sis, and the chem­i­cal and ‘biotech’ indus­tries in gen­er­al. The most recent trend is direct use in med­i­cine, par­tic­u­lar­ly in ther­a­py but also in diag­no­sis. One exam­ple is the use of MIPs in biosen­sors, tak­ing advan­tage of their high phys­i­cal and chem­i­cal sta­bil­i­ty,” says Karsten Haupt. 

What are biosen­sors? “Biosen­sors are a cat­e­go­ry of chem­i­cal sen­sors. They con­sist of two parts: the recog­ni­tion ele­ment (the ‘sen­si­tive lay­er’) that specif­i­cal­ly recog­nis­es the mol­e­cule to be detect­ed, and the trans­duc­er. The trans­duc­er trans­lates the sig­nal emit­ted when the tar­get mol­e­cule binds to an elec­tri­cal sig­nal. Biosen­sors are used when the recog­ni­tion ele­ment is a bio­log­i­cal mol­e­cule. MIP­based sen­sors are among these and are bio­mimet­ic mate­ri­als in the sense that they are able to mim­ic the behav­iour of bio­log­i­cal recep­tors,’ he explains. Why biosen­sors? “Unlike tra­di­tion­al analy­sis lab­o­ra­to­ries which, in addi­tion to heavy invest­ment in equip­ment, require trav­el­ling in order to deliv­er sam­ples for analy­sis, biosen­sors are trans­portable. They can be moved to the sam­ples, for exam­ple, on a farm to detect con­t­a­m­i­na­tion in milk. They can even be implant­ed in the human body for con­tin­u­ous detec­tion of dis­ease bio­mark­ers, which proves high­ly con­ve­nient for patients suf­fer­ing from chron­ic dis­eases in par­tic­u­lar. Rather than hav­ing to go to the hos­pi­tal reg­u­lar­ly, biosen­sors make it pos­si­ble to mea­sure a par­tic­u­lar mol­e­cule, such as blood glu­cose, at home,” he points out. 

But the grow­ing inter­est in MIPs does not end there. They should make increas­ing­ly per­son­alised med­i­cine pos­si­ble. “These mate­ri­als, often called syn­thet­ic anti­bod­ies, are used to tar­get cer­tain cells or mol­e­cules asso­ci­at­ed with patholo­gies such as tumours, inflam­ma­tions or infec­tions. Syn­thet­ic anti­bod­ies have many advan­tages. First­ly, there is no need to use ani­mals in the lab­o­ra­to­ry; they are tai­lor-made for a par­tic­u­lar tar­get or dis­ease; they are cheap­er and more sta­ble, mak­ing them eas­i­er to engi­neer,’ explains Karsten Haupt. 

This is a wel­come inno­va­tion, since mol­e­c­u­lar recog­ni­tion is the basis for all process­es in the human body and we now avail of a chem­i­cal tech­nol­o­gy bio-inspired and bio-mim­ic­ked that today extends far beyond the bio­log­i­cal field. 

Hence the grow­ing inter­est of many part­ners. “We are work­ing in par­tic­u­lar with Sanofi in the field of med­ical ther­a­pies, but also with oth­er com­pa­nies, hos­pi­tals and aca­d­e­m­ic part­ners on fun­da­men­tal and applied projects such as med­ical diag­no­sis and treat­ment,” con­cludes Pro­fes­sor Haupt.

Le magazine

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