Researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies EMFT in Munich have developed a novel nanosensor to monitor the health of cells by measuring their levels of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) production. High levels of ATP production are indicative of high levels of metabolic activity seen in healthy cells, while a reduction in ATP production can indicate harmful effects of medical compounds or chemicals on the cells.
The nanosensor is comprised of multiple particles embedded with fluorescent dyes which can pass through cell membranes. The level of ATP production is identified using fluorescence microscopy as explained in the institute’s press release:
In order for the nanoparticles to register the ATP, researchers give them two fluorescent dyes: a green indicator dye that is sensitive to ATP, and a red reference dye that does not change color. Next, the scientists introduce the particles to living cells and observe them under a fluorescence microscope. The degree to which the particles light up depends on the quantity of ATP present. The more yellow is visible in the overlay image, the more active are the cells. If their health were impaired, the overlay image would appear much redder. “We could in future use cancer cells to test the effectiveness of newly developed chemotherapy agents. If the nanosensors detect a low concentration of ATP in the cells, we’ll know that the new treatment is either inhibiting tumor cell growth or even killing them,” says Schmidt. “The most promising agents could then be studied further.”
The researchers are currently investigating the use of their nano-sensor platform for monitoring levels of oxygen concentration and toxic amines so that spoiled food may be identified. While a large number of regulatory hurdles remain, the researcher team believes that this technology may reduce the need for animal testing in the long run and accelerate the evaluation of all kinds substances for cytotoxic effects.