The research group of academician Andres Öpik is engaged in capturing carcinoma cells


“In 2016, we can draw conclusions from a three-year work period of our research group,” head of the research group, Academician and Professor at the Department of Materials Science Andres Öpik says.
“The research is focused on the development of various formats of (molecularly imprinted polymer (MIP) materials for preparation of polymer nets, on better understanding of its primary processes and on development of multiplex MIP microbiochips by applying modern microtechnologies, including photolithography and colloidal lithography. The expected output is highly selective and reliable multiplex MIP microbiochips, which allow significant improvement of the efficiency of biosensitive elements,” Professor Öpik says.

This means that in a laboratory target molecules are planted into the polymer structure by polymerization. Thereafter the target molecules are removed from the polymer structure leaving cavities sensitive to the target molecules. When such a polymer net with cavities is taken again to the environment being investigated, such a “trap” will rebind the target molecules very precisely and we can evaluate the binding process efficiently by using various technical methods.

Andres Öpik, “We are now able to build polymers that have “traps” to specific molecules also on microchips that can accommodate already tens of thousands of trap cavities. Today we are able to build separate traps on a chip for two-three molecules – one for capturing one molecule, the other for other molecules, the third for third molecules.“  Such MIP chips can be successfully used also in diagnostics. This method should reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of medical technology; this helps to adjust various current laboratory procedures for domestic use.

“The advantages of MIP materials produced on different sensor platforms include reliability, stability of their properties and cheaper and simpler synthesis,” Professor Öpik explains. “MIP is a very perspective method for producing biosensors, which is an alternative to biological receptors, for producing chemosensors, for environment analysis and for developing specific medicament carriers,” Professor Öpik states.

As for future prospects, such traps could be used not only for diagnostic but also for therapeutic purposes.

In this way, the artificially created so-called “traps” could be inserted into the organism of a cancer patient, where they would find the carcinoma cells, bind (i.e. capture) them and take them out without causing significant harm to the rest of the organism.  The research carried out so far indicates that, e.g. in case of cancer treatment, such molecularly imprinted polymers would be a much cheaper solution compared to the natural and expensive chemotherapy used so far.

The work carried out so far in testing the so-called “molecule traps” has been very successful, however, according to academician Öpik it will take some time before they dare to insert the molecule traps into a human body. “The main problem is that the defence system of a human body may consider the molecule trap to be a foreign body and start to fight it,” Andres Öpik adds.

Until the field of medicine tackles the problem, the same molecule traps can be easily applied e.g. in environmental technology. “We completed an environmental technology project, where we detected residues of medicinal products in soil and fluids. Contaminated water or soil can be cleaned by methods, where chemical compounds bind (i.e. capture) undesirable contaminants. I see great future in this field,” academician Andres Öpik asserted.

Additional information: Professor Andres Öpik,

Original post by Tallinn University of Technology

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