Artificial antibodies present new possibilities

Srikanth Singamaneni, associate professor at the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis, is working to speed up medical diagnostics.

Srikanth Singamaneni

Using artificial bio-receptors and metal nanostructures, Singamaneni, in collaboration with Evan Kharasch, MD, PhD, and Jerry Morrissey, has set the groundwork to create durable, point-of-care (POC) diagnostics for heart attack and kidney injury.

The plasmonic sensors based on an artificial antibody platform could be easily implemented using a miniature, battery-operated spectrometer to potentially enable testing in POC settings, such as ambulances and urgent-care facilities. For example, the platform would allow accurate testing for a heart attack in the ambulance, providing critical test results much sooner than currently possible.

"One of the biggest advantages of this technology is the ability to rapidly develop bio-recognition elements for any protein biomarker," Singamaneni said. "The conventional method forces us to use natural antibodies, which take much longer to develop. Our artificial antibodies can be adapted to various proteins, creating a platform that can be used in a wide range of diagnostics. Moreover, these artificial antibodies are remarkably stable compared to their natural counterparts."

Kharasch is the director of the WashU Center for Clinical Pharmacology and was the former director of the Division of Clinical & Translational Research in the Department of Anesthesiology. He has been instrumental in developing the artificial antibodies platform.

"This platform technology markedly shrinks the time required for development of molecular diagnostics," Kharasch said. "It also expands their potential utilization, both in application and the number of locations where the application can occur."

The Washington University Office of Technology Management (OTM) noticed immediate potential in this platform of technologies and is pushing for its commercialization. The platform was also supported with help from the WashU Bear Cub program, which supports university researchers in turning their ideas into marketable products.

Morrissey, a research professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at the School of Medicine, has provided research used to support this platform.

"Artificial antibodies are quite stable compared to natural antibodies, and diagnostic platforms based on artificial antibodies will allow timely diagnosis of various injuries or diseases at urban or rural non-hospital-based clinics while the patient is still present," Morrissey said. "This allows doctors to affect prompt treatment to a patient who might otherwise be lost to follow-up."

Kharasch said while natural antibodies can take many months or even years to develop, artificial antibodies can be ready to use in a diagnostic setting in as little as several weeks.

"These artificial antibodies have the ability to revolutionize how we use diagnostic tests," Kharasch said. "The fact that these tests have the potential to be administered in pre-hospital POC settings, such as ambulances, only increases their value. We can now reach more people, and we can reach them much earlier than before."