Wetenschap - 15 maart 2018

‘Tongue on chip’ can replace test subjects

tekst:
Tessa Louwerens

Researchers at Wageningen Plant Research have ‘printed’ receptors from the mouths and intestines of people onto glass plates. This will let them do research on nutrition and medicines without needing test subjects.

The researchers ‘printed’ human receptor proteins on glass plates. © Wageningen Plant Research

The researchers have dubbed the new technique ‘receptomics’ and published their findings in the journal Sensors. ‘This technique lets us predict the human body’s reaction to many different substances in a short time without requiring a single test subject,’ says coordinator Maarten Jongsma, a molecular biologist in the Bioscience business unit, part of Wageningen Plant Research.

Our bodies contain various different receptors, proteins that detect substances and send signals about them to the cell they are attached to. These receptor proteins are on your tongue, for example, to let you taste things and in your intestines to detect when food has arrived.

The technique offers possibilities for giving personalised recommendations on diet and medicines in the future.
Maarten Jongsma, Wageningen Plant Research

Specific pieces of DNA code for different receptor proteins. The researchers have ‘printed’ this DNA in minuscule droplets on glass plates. In addition to the DNA for the specific receptor protein, each droplet also contained a piece of DNA that codes for a protein that emits a colour signal. The researchers then cultivated cells on the different droplets. These cells absorbed the two types of DNA and then proceeded to make the proteins. This resulted in little groups of cells that all made one receptor protein plus the colour signal protein.

Next, the researchers pumped a thin layer of liquid onto the plates — for example, tomato juice or coffee — and they used the colour signal proteins to record which receptor proteins reacted to it. But they were still not finished. Jongsma: ‘Human cells also have a lot of other receptors. They react to all kinds of substances in the liquid. The colour signal only tells us that the cells have reacted. The trick is to pick out the reaction of that one specific receptor.’ The research team of cell biologists, molecular biologists, statisticians and programmers developed smart software to let them find that needle in the haystack.

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The technique offers possibilities for giving personalised recommendations on diet and medicines in the future, says Jongsma. ‘Each individual person has a slightly different set of receptor proteins. A doctor can give more specific advice by determining what types a patient has and linking that to receptomics test results.’

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