New technology to diagnose, treat deadly diseases

By developing a new technology to analyze proteins in single human cells, York University professor Sergey Krylov hopes to create a diagnostic ‘Swiss Army Knife’ that can eventually help to diagnose and treat a variety of currently incurable diseases like cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

“Cell proteins regulate everything that goes on in cells, and if we can find out how they control cell division, we will have a key to treating many deadly diseases,” says Krylov, who is Canada Research Chair in Bioanalytical Chemistry at York.

To understand the mechanisms that cause these diseases, Krylov notes, scientists need to know the biological and chemical properties of individual cells. Unfortunately, traditional methods have not been adequate to allow researchers to isolate and examine individual cells.

Krylov, in collaboration with Dr. N.J. Dovichi, has addressed this shortcoming with the development of a new bioanalytical technique that can analyze the chemical content of a single cell. The technique is called chemical cytometry and involves the injection of a single cell into a tiny capillary where its components can be separated and identified using electrophoresis and laser-induced fluorescence detection. Combining this process with different types of microscopic techniques allows researchers to probe both the chemical and biological properties of a single cell.

Krylov believes that stem cells – which are responsible for all the different cells in our bodies – will ultimately provide means of treating many deadly diseases. He wants to understand why stem cells divide asymmetrically (in effect, producing two new cells each with different characteristics).

“Unlike stem cells, cancer cells divide symmetrically, creating replicas of each other and they can do so indefinitely -- causing tumours,” says Krylov and adds, “If we could intervene and make the cancer cells divide asymmetrically, the way stem cells do, we would have a new way of treating cancer.”

Krylov is using this new research tool to study stem cells. He wants to learn how to control their division and differentiation. His work is expected to lead to techniques for tissue regeneration in damaged organs. He is also developing a new strategy for drug engineering to treat severe diseases, at the molecular level, by creating a new type of molecules called smart aptamers that bind to a target molecule and modify its activity. In addition, Krylov is creating a new research structure at York, the Institute for New Strategies In Drug Engineering (INSIDE), to guide these innovations in medical research.

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