Case study: Fundamental science helps protein business

Orla Protein Technologies

Orla Protein Technologies designs custom protein surfaces for advanced biosensor manufacturers.
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ISIS is giving a specialist bioscience spinout the fundamental knowledge needed to make more accurate biosensors to diagnose potentially fatal diseases.

  • Diagnostic biosensors allow doctors to quickly tell the difference between a virus and bacterial infection, allowing them to treat illnesses such as human respiratory syncytial virus or meningitis appropriately.
  • Every diagnostic biosensor requires a high performance protein surface that detects the tell tale molecules in a sample. This engineered biological film is so thin that a stack of 30,000 would only be as thick as a sheet of paper.
  • Orla Protein Technologies makes bespoke protein surfaces for large companies developing the next generation of electronic biosensors. ISIS enables Orla to test the quality of its engineered surfaces.

Diagnostic biosensors are devices used to detect diseases in the human body. When diagnosing infectious diseases, biosensors must be sensitive and quick enough to distinguish between a virus and a bacterial infection. For example meningitis (a bacterial or viral infection) can be fatal if not diagnosed correctly and attended to quickly.

Diagnostic biosensors need a high performance protein surface, an invisible engineered biological film that detects virus proteins in a sample. Orla Protein Technologies is a spinout of Newcastle University. It designs custom protein surfaces for some of the most advanced biosensor manufacturers. Orla wanted to show how proteins bind to its biological film to give clear and accurate results.

Orla uses neutron scattering at ISIS to confirm the structure of its protein surfaces. ISIS enables Orla to view its layers in action under water, binding to specific molecules and rejecting others. The ISIS experiments provided the physical and structural information necessary to ensure their protein surfaces were reliable for manufacturing.

“Neutron scattering at ISIS is the only method capable of looking into the structure of these protein surfaces at scales 10,000 times smaller than a human hair,” said Orla Co-founder Professor Jeremy Lakey. “Neutrons can differentiate between isotopes of hydrogen. Therefore we can introduce isotopically labelled molecules into the reactions to help us tell where each component part is. These results reassure our customers and are essential for the success of our business. Following the success of these experiments, we’re now planning further research on the new ISIS Second Target Station.”

A.P. Le Brun

Research date: January 2008

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