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Fluorescent Biosensor May Aid Drug Research

July 30, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Cardiac Imaging, Chest Radiology, Neuroradiology
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You can understand the excitement of Jonathan Jarvik, PhD, an associate professor of biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, about the new fluorescent biosensor that he and his team have developed.

The biosensor can track G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). GPCRs play an important role in the chemical communication circuits of cells, including circuits responsible for heart and lung function, mood, cognition and memory, digestion, and the inflammatory response.

“Drugs that target GPCRs make up approximately 30 percent of all pharmaceuticals currently on the market, including some of the most prescribed drugs,” said Dr. Jarvik as quoted in a Carnegie Mellon news release. “This prevalence makes assays for the receptors a billion-dollar industry.”

Yes, he said “billion.”

Even aside from financial considerations, the new biosensors are pretty cool. They use a new technology called “fluoromodules,” developed by Carnegie Mellon’s Molecular and Biosensor Imaging Center. Fluoromodules allow imaging of the activities of individual proteins in living cells in real time.

The fluoromodules consist of two components: a nonfluorescent dye called a fluorogen and a fluorogen-activating protein (FAP). The FAP is attached to whatever protein is being studied, and the fluorogen is engineered to bind to the FAP. When they bind, they cast off a glow that can be detected by a variety of methods, thus showing the protein’s location and activity. Handily enough, the FAP’s fluroescence can be turned on and off by adding or removing the fluorogen.

The current study, published in the July issue of the Journal of Biomolecular Screening, involves using this new technology to monitor a type of GPCR that’s present in the brain, heart, and lung, among other areas in the body, as it interacts with other molecules.

Dr. Jarvik and his team are currently researching the technique’s broader applications, hoping that it can also be used for other receptors and cell-surface proteins.

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