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Efficient, affordable drug testing by printed device
February 24, 2018, 1:13 pm

Engineers at McMaster University in Canada have created a printed paper-based device that can speed up and improve accuracy of the screening process in drug manufacturing. Their work could also be used to diagnose diseases, identify environmental contaminants and pinpoint biological warfare agents.

Currently, the pharmaceutical industry tests the viability of drugs through multiple stage screening process. The first stage involves testing thousands of drug candidates in rapid succession to see how well they bind, block or degrade a molecule of interest to the target disease. Subsequent stages involve more extensive testing of drugs that show promise in this first step.

However, the way this initial first screen is now done results in many inaccurate results, with as many as 95 percent of drug candidates having no chance of becoming a useful drug. In most cases, these inaccuracies arise from the candidate drugs sticking together during the screen to create particles that physically, instead of chemically, block the activity of the molecule targeted by the drug. Such inaccuracies are usually discovered only in the slower and more expensive second stage of screening, resulting in significant time and money wasted during the drug discovery process.

Engineers at McMaster have now come up with a way to improve the first stage of testing by using a new printable hydrogel, a network of polymers used in everything from contact lenses to disposable diapers. The thin layers of printed hydrogels form a cage around the target molecule so drug particles formed cannot access the target molecule and trigger inaccurate results. Only drugs that chemically bind to the target molecule (the ones that could become practical drugs) are allowed into the hydrogel to give a positive result.

The printed device developed is inexpensive and can be used directly in drug screening, improving accuracy without requiring a significant change in how drug screening is now done. As an added benefit, the same sensitivity can be achieved using much less sample volume, further reducing the cost of the screen. The researchers expect this to make testing more affordable and to speed up the discovery of new drugs. In addition, it could also address the surge of antibiotic resistance, by more quickly identifying ‘helper drugs’ that can make even drug-resistant bacteria susceptible to current antibiotics.


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