Scientists Create Synthetic Antibodies Using Carbon Nanotubes

Scientists Create 'Synthetic Antibodies' Using Carbon Nanotubes

5 December 2013

Engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have come up with a new method to generate nanoparticles that can identify certain molecules, enabling a leap ahead in building durable sensors for a wide range of compounds and other applications.

The team of chemical engineers used carbon nanotubes to create these "synthetic antibodies," coating them with specially designed amphiphilic polymers, which are polymers that like soap are drawn to both oil and water. The carbon nanotubes used were hollow, nanometer-thick cylinders that fluorescence naturally when laser light is applied.

These polymer-coated nanotubes could be employed in the creation of sensors for monitoring cancer, inflammation, diabetes and other diseases, since the technique allows for the recognition of any target molecule by monitoring nanotube-polymer complexes to generate synthetic analogs to antibody function, said Michael Strano, Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and senior author of the research.

The method, detailed in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, is unique because it enables the detection of a great number of targets and could also lead to the creation of a more resistant alternative to coating sensors like carbon nanotubes with actual antibodies that could penetrate inside living cells and tissues.

The approach could prove useful for a broad array of applications that require proper screening of specific molecules, commented Laurent Cognet, senior scientist at the Institute of Optics, University of Bordeaux. This is because it doesn't require the use of antibodies or equivalent molecules to recognize certain molecules, providing as a result a reliable alternative for 'on-demand' molecular sensing, he added.