Small Holes, Big Impact – Cellular Physiology in Chip Format
Dr. rer. nat. Niels Fertig (Spokesperson)
Dr. rer. nat. Andrea Brüggemann
Prof. Dr. med. Jan C. Behrends Nanion Technologies GmbH, München
The goal of modern medicine is to cure diseases by specifically targeting and fighting their biological causes in the body.
But how are the suitable active ingredients of drugs to be tracked down rapidly and systematically?
One way is a novel screening process based on a biochip. It was developed by Niels Fertig, Andrea Brüggemann, and Jan C. Behrends. Niels Fertig and Andrea Brüggemann are Managing Directors of Nanion Technologies GmbH in Munich. Jan C. Behrends works as a Professor of Physiology at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg and is chairman of the advistory board of Nanion Technologies.
The sticking point is the ion channels
The starting point for the innovation by the three nominated researchers is patch-clamping – for many years a standard test method used to study the impact of a variety of substances on ion channels. Ion channels are certain proteins that form pores in cell membranes and regulate the flow of electrically charged particles through the membrane. If this mechanism is impaired, diseases may develop, such as cardiac arrhythmia, diabetes, and neurological disorders. Consequently, doctors prescribe drugs to treat these illnesses which specifically influence a certain type of ion channel.
The disadvantage of patch clamping in its conventional form is that the procedure is very costly, takes a lot of time, and is not suited to tracing active ingredients on an industrial scale.
Biochips for a fast search for active ingredients
The innovation by Fertig, Brüggemann, and Behrends is completely different: the researchers discovered a way to automate the process and conduct multiple tests simultaneously. They developed biochips that were capable of being used to test the effects of a large number of substances on ion channels very quickly and on numerous cells simultaneously. This speeds up and simplifies the search for new active ingredients during which pharmacologists often have to analyze millions of potential candidates until the right substance is found. This makes the process important to the pharmaceuticals industry. But it also an advantage for patients in that it will make drugs better and more affordable.
Development of the new technology began in 1998 at the Center for Nanoscience at the University of Munich (LMU) where Niels Fertig and Jan C. Behrends pursued basic research. The founding of Nanion Technologies in 2002 arose from their work. Andrea Brüggemann joined the company in 2003 which had already begun to offer two product families based on the different requirements of science and industry.