In a NanoNextNL project, researchers from the University of Twente have developed a chip of approximately 1 cm x 2 cm in size, which consists of two glass plates with a Teflon layer in between. In the Teflon layer a hole of about 100 micrometres (one tenth of a millimetre) in diameter is made. The glass plates contain micro-channels that are connected with each other via the hole in the Teflon. Lipid and then aqueous solutions are rinsed through the micro-channels. As a result of this a membrane is spontaneously formed in the hole in the Teflon that serves as a model for the cell membrane.
Cheaper and quicker
‘We have equipped the chip with both optical and electrical measurement techniques’, says Stimberg. ‘This makes it possible to measure the effect of the proteins or molecules added on the properties of the cell membrane.’ By adding a substance to be tested, such as medicines or chemicals, it can be directly and indirectly checked if this influences the transport of ions through the protein channel. As the chip works with small quantities of the substances to be tested, the tests could be cheaper than the current methods. Two companies were interested in this technology and together with Le Gac and her team they have further developed several aspects of the chip in a new project.