Toshiba develops novel biosensor array with individually coded microparticles

26 November 2008

Cambridge Research Laboratory of Toshiba Research Europe Ltd has developed a novel, label-free biosensor platform that is expected to significantly shorten the time taken to screen molecules for biomedical applications, saving days or even weeks of research time.

The platform is capable of combining multiple array experiments in one single instance on a wide variety of biomolecules such as antibodies and other proteins. This unique versatility makes it ideal for rapid process optimization in molecular screening applications.

The reduction in research time is made possible because the new system takes a novel approach to the assay process.

Traditionally, array manufacturers have sought to increase throughput by increasing the number of data points (spots) on their arrays. However, this does not take into consideration the number of actual array experiments that researchers need to carry out if different process conditions are required. The Toshiba system provides not only enough data points in each array, but delivers flexibility into the process to ensure only one experiment needs to be performed, as it can accommodate a wide range of process conditions.

Biosensor technology is widely used in pharmaceutical, medical and biotechnology research. The Toshiba development is aimed initially at laboratory-based biotechnology research, but is also expected to find applications in the fields of drug discovery and diagnostics and personalized medicine. For example, it will provide reduced candidate screening times leading to huge cost savings in drug discovery.

The unique and enhanced versatility of the Toshiba system derives from it being particle-based, rather than using a conventional fixed 2-dimensional molecular array on a single surface. Microparticles, each bearing a machine-readable code and a gold-coated nanometric optical grating, are produced in very large numbers via a low-cost, scalable fabrication process developed within the Cambridge Lab.

Each particle has a code-specific biomolecule immobilized on its surface. The code on any given particle then uniquely identifies a molecule when it is under test. The nanoscale grating allows simple optical probing of the interaction between biomolecules in solution with those immobilized on the surface.

A semi-automated reader system for the particles has also been developed, which is currently capable of measuring up to 50 particles in one single test. There is ample scope to fully automate the system and increase the throughput still higher, so that up to 1000 particles could be measured in a single test.

The platform has been developed in conjunction with the Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge. The institute’s director, Professor Christopher Lowe, said: “I am pleased to have been able to contribute to this Toshiba project. The technology is generic, relatively inexpensive per test and widely applicable to highly multiplexed analyses of diverse analytes. It should find substantial use in biomedical and other diagnostic systems, drug and biomarker discovery and, ultimately, in personalized medicine.”

Personalized medicine is the concept of tailoring a patient’s treatment for a particular disease to his or her genetic makeup. Even for relatively common diseases such as cancer and heart disease this might require the identification of complex panels of biomarkers, which may be small molecules, proteins, metabolites, or a host of other indicators. The Toshiba system would provide the ideal means to perform the necessary diagnostic tests to identify these biomarkers.

Dr Carl Norman, Principal Research Scientist at Toshiba Cambridge Research Labs, added: “Nanobiotechnology will play an increasingly significant role in driving the next generation of medical and pharmaceutical discovery. The flexibility of our new platform could help organizations significantly shorten their research cycles, and help cut time to market of medicines for a wide range of diseases.”

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