Three distinct protein binders attached to the same nanopore. (Credit: Mohammad Ahmad)

Researchers have devised a tiny, nano-sized sensor capable of detecting protein biomarkers in a sample at single-molecule precision. Coined as hook and bait, a tiny protein binder fuses to a small hole created in the membrane of a cell — known as a nanopore — which allows ionic solution to flow through it.

When the sensor recognizes a targeted molecule, the ionic flow changes. This change in flow serves as the signal from the sensor that the biomarker has been found. The sensor design architecture can be applied to a broad range of protein targets.

The team coupled nanopore technology with antibody mimetic technology — artificially designed protein scaffolds that bind and interact with a specific biomarker and behave like antibodies. To validate their findings, the team tested their hypothesis using a blood serum sample. They were able to identify and quantify epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), a protein biomarker in various cancers. In addition, numerous calibrations of the sensors were conducted using other biophysical techniques.

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