Scientists know that the proteins in our bodies can sometimes fold and form clumps called amyloids, which lead to neurodegenerative diseases. However, they still don’t fully understand the whole process — there’s just no efficient way to examine the clumps. Since understanding amyloid formation could be the key to preventing or developing treatments for conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, a team of researchers have developed a technique to measure individual protein molecules’ properties.
Researchers from the University of Michigan and University of Fribourg call their method “5-D fingerprinting.” It involves the use of a substrate with a nanopore that’s only 10 to 30 nanometers wide so only one molecule can pass through at a time. That molecule causes fluctuations in the setup’s (which you can see below) electric current as it passes through the nanopore. Scientists and doctors can then measure that current to get the protein’s “unique five-dimensional signature.”
David Sept, a team member and U of Michigan professor in biomedical engineering, explains:
“Imagine the challenge of identifying a specific person based only on their height and weight. That’s essentially the challenge we face with current techniques. Imagine how much easier it would be with additional descriptors like gender, hair color and clothing. That’s the kind of new information 5-D fingerprinting provides, making it much easier to identify specific proteins.”
In the future, the researchers want to use what they learned to create a device medical professionals can use to instantly measure proteins in blood and other samples. That can help doctors conjure up personalized medical advice and treatment regimens proven to work for each particular patient’s condition.