Science & Tech

UCSB Researchers Develop Tool to Trace How Bodies Metabolize Drugs

A biomedical technology once thought impossible came to fruition thanks to University of California, Santa Barbara researchers Kevin Plaxco, a biochemistry professor, Tom Soh, a mechanical engineering professor and Scott Ferguson, Ph.D candidate in the Soh Laboratory. The team collaborated to develop MEDIC, a revolutionary medical device that provides real-time, personalized feed-back on how individual bodies metabolize drugs prescribed by doctors.

MEDIC stands for Microfluidic Electrochemical Detector for In vivo Continuous monitoring and is a breakthrough for medicine in its ability to monitor the level of various drug concentrations and provide information necessary to give personalized dosages for patients.

Ferguson said that most devices cannot offer continuously live feedback of drug levels in the body, instead relying on age and weight to administer dosages.

“Currently it is not possible to measure the concentrations of most drugs and metabolites in real time as they fluctuate up and down in the body,” Ferguson said. “We thought we could solve this.”

The device, only slightly larger than a jumbo paperclip, senses how quickly a body metabolizes drugs and can even be used to detect illicit substances in the bloodstream.

The hope is that the days of basing dosages on age and weight are long-gone to be replaced by the individualized and more accurate data that MEDIC offers. Each patient has a different genetic makeup and drugs affect each person differently; by catering to each person’s specific biological makeup, drugs can be made more affective and side effects less of a threat.

According to Ferguson, MEDIC is cost effective and as such holds the possibility for world-wide use.

“In theory it is quite cheap,” Ferguson said. “[It is] a few dollars to make the chip.”

MEDIC requires only a small sample of blood, but the team ran into issues with testing samples because proteins and coagulants would stick to the sensor and skew results.

“Blood is a very complex material and tends to foul everything,” Ferguson said.

The researchers solved this issue by introducing a buffer to filter out large blood components from the smaller drug molecules entering the detector.

The team’s next goal for MEDIC is to tailor its use for a range of drugs and extend its runtime, which is currently limited by four hours. By extending this time and adding more drugs to the system, MEDIC can have far-reaching effects, especially in the pharmaceutical field.

MEDIC holds the potential both to offer exact dosages tailored to each patient’s metabolism, as well as to serve as a device for detecting illegal drugs.

 

A version of this story appeared on page 6 of Wednesday, February 19, 2014′s print edition of the Daily Nexus.

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