The researchers created a chip about one centimeter square that holds thousands of tiny vessels sitting on top of a material that contains numerous pores. This "nanoporous" material makes it possible to carry out reactions inside the vessels.
The goal is to produce "laboratories-on-a-chip" less than a half-inch square that might contain up to a million test chambers, or "reactors," each capable of screening an individual drug, said Gil Lee, the project's leader and an associate professor of chemical engineering.
"What we are reporting now is a proof of concept," said Lee, one of three researchers who wrote a paper that details new findings in the current issue (Feb. 15) of the journal Langmuir. The two other researchers are Zhigang Wang, a postdoctoral fellow at Purdue; and Richard Haasch, a research scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The work is part of overall research being carried out by an interdisciplinary team of scientists and engineers who are members of a Center for Membrane Protein Biotechnology. The center was created at Purdue in 2003 through a grant from the Indiana 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, established by the state of Indiana to promote high-tech research and to help commercialize innovations.
The vessels discussed in the research paper are cylindrical cavities that are open at the top and sealed at the bottom with a material called alumina, which contains numerous pores measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter.
Researchers are working to duplicate how cell membranes function on chips in order to test the potential effectiveness of new drugs to treat diseases. Membranes, which surround cells and regulate the movement of m