Researchers at Wake Forest University
are using nanotechnology to search for new cancer-fighting drugs through a process
that could be up to 10,000 times faster than current methods.
The "Lab-on-Bead" process will screen millions of chemicals simultaneously
using tiny plastic beads so small that 1,000 of them would fit across a human
hair. Each bead carries a separate chemical, which can be identified later if
it displays the properties needed to treat cancer cells. One batch of nanoscopic
beads can replace the work of thousands of conventional, repetitive laboratory
"This process allows the beads to do the work for you," explains
Jed Macosko, project director and assistant professor of physics at Wake Forest.
"By working at this scale, we will be able to screen more than a billion
possible drug candidates per day as opposed to the current limit of hundreds
of thousands per day."
Other members of the research team at Wake Forest include co-principal investigator
Martin Guthold, an associate professor of physics, and Keith Bonin, department
chair and professor of physics.
Macosko said the team and their collaborators at the University of Waterloo
in Ontario, Canada, are developing a device that will automate the Lab-on-Bead
process and permit parallel processing to attain faster screening results. The
Wake Forest researchers are also working with biotechnologists at Harvard University
in Boston and Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France, which are
providing the chemicals being screened for drug candidates. Biotech company
NanoMedica has shown interest in commercializing the process. The North Carolina
Biotechnology Center, a private, nonprofit corporation funded by the N.C. General
Assembly, has provided $75,000 in funding for the project.
Wake Forest's Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials, which maintains
ongoing research programs in the areas of health and medicine, energy technologies
and synthesis of nanomaterials, will facilitate some elements of Lab-on-Bead