Synthetic Cell Receptors Are Now a Reality

Sam Taylor
4 Min Read

Designing synthetic receptors for precise cell control

It’s hard to imagine a world without your senses. The five basic human senses – hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch – are integral to how we experience every aspect of the outside world, and at least three of them play a significant role in how we interact with digital interfaces. Sending information to the brain, they help us perceive every aspect of what’s around us… but what happens if they go away? Until now, there hasn’t been a way to really replace our senses physically; technology has aided us in our quest to rescue ailing senses – glasses, hearing aids, prosthetics etc. – but where do we go from here? Synthetic cell receptors.

As reported by Science Daily, scientists have now developed a groundbreaking technique to engineer biosensors. Responding to specific molecules, enhancing cell migration and even playing a role in cancer treatment, this bold technology could help us better control and understand cellular processes within the body, opening the gates for wide-reaching applications.

“Biosensors are artificial molecular complexes designed to detect the presence of target chemicals or even biomolecules. Consequently, biosensors have become important in diagnostics and synthetic cell biology.”
– Science Daily

Enter: synthetic cell receptors

Traditionally, methods for engineering biosensors have focussed on optimising the interactions between static binding surfaces, while current biosensing technology is limited in its ability to recognise well-defined molecules, like the ones we see in textbooks. The problem is, when they’re actually inside a human body, molecules can be hard to identify, and harder still to manipulate. Synthetic cell receptors could solve the issue.

Brilliantly, scientists at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, a Swiss technical university focused on three key missions: teaching, research and innovation, have found a solution. Professor Patrick Barth says, “We developed a novel computational approach for designing protein-peptide ligand binding and applied it to engineer cell-surface chemotactic receptors that reprogrammed cell migration.” Barth continues, “We think that our work could broadly impact the design of protein binding and cell engineering applications.”

How it works

Barth and his colleagues have developed biosensors that can sense flexible compounds and trigger complex cellular responses.

This innovation has the potential to unlock myriad applications for the biosensors. The team developed a ‘computational framework’ to design specific protein complexes that can adapt, changing their shape and function dynamically, to better affect specific molecules within the body. What’s more, this wholly digital system can devise new methods of establishing protein sequences, to come up with new ways to stimulate protein groups, beyond how we currently operate at a cellular level.

“For example, engineered cytotoxic lymphocytes with enhanced chemotaxis toward tumor sites could prove useful in cancer treatment.”
– Science daily

The potential for EPFL’s new biotech is limitless, and whilst it could lead to some truly sci-fi concepts on how we interact with our own biology, these could also radically transform the way we address currently untreatable conditions and diseases, and increase survivor rates across the 100+ known variants of cancer. These synthetic cell receptors could transform health as we know it.

Source: Designing synthetic receptors for precise cell control.

What applications can you think of for this breakthrough tech? Keep the conversation going in the comments.

Want more on the next generation of medicine? Click here: MHRA and Genomics England to Launch Revolutionary ‘Biobank’ for Personalized Medicine.

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A Brighton UK-based content creator, Sam has worked with some world-conquering brands, including Cartoon Network, Marvel and Screen Rant.When he's not writing about the latest next-gen tech insights, he's probably off walking the dog, reading comics, eating sushi and listening to podcasts, or doing his weekly improv course.
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