Researchers from Caltech had engineered a cellular structure, which would revolutionize the ultrasound imaging technique to be more efficient, detail-full and more over the engineered molecule could be key to many more biological breakthroughs!
The notion behind research
Once it was nearly impossible to know what was happening inside the human system, but humanity had leaped much forward than those days. Past few decades experienced the fruit of medical innovations which improved the life expectancy by a great factor. Imaging techniques were one among them which contributed a key part. But still, they are nowhere near being perfect. As a step towards future, researchers from California Institute of Technology (Caltech) modified a cellular structure known as a gas vesicle to play a crucial role in ultrasound imaging.
Gas vesicles are small structures found mainly in singled celled living organism, which mainly helps them to maintain cellular buoyancy. Their structure mainly composed of a rigid protein coat which protected the vesicle contents, known as protein C or ‘GvpC’. This knocked the scientist to turn their attention towards these tiny molecules. They took it a step further by engineering the nanostructures on the protein coat of gas vesicles. This protein gives the structure its rigidity and mechanical strength. They have modified these proteins in such a way that, it can be used a detective molecule, which would wander throughout the human system and binds to specific location or structure of our interest.
The colorful imaging
Initially, the team was testing the protein inside the lab mice and discovered the significant vibration response of proteins when subjected to ultrasound. When resonated at the harmonic frequency, these signals are easy to be picked up during an ultrasound scan. In the next phase, they engineered the nanostructures on proteins to bind specifically to particular cells or tissues inside human system. This way it would be easy to target and detect tumors, employing engineered nanostructures whose affinity towards integrins (an abundant protein in tumor cells) are engineered.
In the later part of research, they altered the nanostructures to vibrate at different frequencies, thereby creating three different types of gas vesicles with varying protein C strength. This way during ultrasound scan as the frequency changes, cells would collapse in groups which when linked to a color code could produce colored ultrasound scan images.
The underlying scope
Once black and white images were the best possible results of USS (ultrasound scan), but this feat of engineering would revolutionize the imaging technique by minimizing cost and improving efficiency. This technology would reduce the cost of cancer detection by a great factor and waves a light towards a faster and real time detection of cancerous cell. By modifying the nanostructures within protein C, we can produce as many probes to bind to specific cells or tissues of our interest. Thus multiple detections can be made in a single scan, that too on a color scale to give more information with less resource.
Anupama Lakshmanan, Arash Farhadi, Suchita P. Nety, Audrey Lee-Gosselin, Raymond W. Bourdeau, David Maresca, Mikhail G. Shapiro. Molecular Engineering of Acoustic Protein Nanostructures. ACS Nano, 2016; 10 (8): 7314 DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.6b03364