Diagnosis on a chip - molecular profiling that could improve diagnosis and help design better drugs

November 29, 2000

A new method for identifying specific proteins in blood or tissue samples could some day be used by doctors to help diagnose diseases and develop better drugs. The technique builds up a molecular "portrait" of the sample that researchers hope will allow them to pinpoint the specific constellation of proteins that indicate a particular illness or disease. Creating a portrait of the pattern of proteins in a sample may prove to be an even more reliable indicator of specific conditions than the expression of genes, and the results reported in this new study suggest that scientists will soon be able to monitor these patters routinely.

The technique uses newly developed protein microarrays - tiny "chips" that allow hundreds to thousands of proteins to be detected and measured at once - to sort out and measure the concentrations of specific proteins and antibodies in complex solutions such as blood samples. In an article posted in advance of publication in GenomeBiology's 'preprint' depository, the research team developing the protein microarrays have so far been able to detect specific proteins in concentrations of less than one part per billion in less than a millionth of an ounce of complex protein mixture similar to blood serum. This suggests that the technique could ultimately be used in clinical as well as research applications.

"The detailed, quantitative global characterization of the protein components in biological specimens is a fundamental problem in biology and clinical medicine," says Patrick O. Brown, one of the article's authors, "This work suggests a practical approach to solving this problem. We are submitting this work to GenomeBiology rather than a more established journal because we are enthusiastic supporters of the journal's commitment to providing immediate, free and unrestricted access to the primary research reports that it publishes."

The protein microarray technique involves using a robotic device to print hundreds of specific antibody or antigen solutions in an array on the surface of a microscope slide. Two complex protein samples are then labelled using spectrally-resolvable fluorescent dyes and applied to the slide. As the antibodies and antigens begin to interact with each other, the type and number of specific proteins in the sample can be identified. The researchers were then able to accurately measure proteins at very low concentrations.

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Notes for Editors

1) Brian B. Haab, Maitreya J Dunham, and Patrick O Brown: Protein microarrays for highly parallel detection and quantitation of specific proteins and antibodies in complex solutions, GenomeBiology 2000, 1(6):preprint0001.1-0001.22
2) This article is currently under peer-review. If you wish to be notified when this paper is due to be published in its final form, please email andrew@biomedcentral.com.
3) GenomeBiology provides a 'preprint' depository to which any primary research can be submitted in order to allow the rapid dissemination of important research findings. Responsibility for the findings contained within preprint articles rests solely with the author(s). Each article in the preprint has a permanent url by which it can be cited. Research submitted to the preprint depository may be simultaneously or subsequently submitted to GenomeBiology or any other publication for peer review. The only requirement is an explicit citation of, and a link to, the preprint in any version of the article that is eventually published.
4) GenomeBiology is a new forum for biologists working in the post-genomic era and regularly publishes research, reviews, commentary and analysis both online and in a monthly print journal. All of the peer-reviewed research articles published by GenomeBiology are available free of charge through our website, are listed in MEDLINE and can be accessed in full through PubMed (NB. this does not include 'preprints' which are only available through GenomeBiology but are also available free of charge).
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