By Vivienne Raper, PhD

Gold nanoparticle-based sensors could help companies with cell monitoring and quality control during biomanufacturing processes.

The sensors, developed by cell therapy firm Minutia, are currently being used to monitor the success of transplants of insulin-producing cells as a treatment for Type 1 diabetes.

However, according to CEO Katy Digovich, they also have potential applications for assessing—for example—the percentage of cells making insulin during the manufacturing process.

 “I think being able to tell in a bioreactor the percentage of cells that are making insulin is a very powerful tool,” says Digovich. “I think there’s a lot of potential for using this for quality control and manufacturing.”

The company is at an early stage in exploring this potential application for the sensors, which consist of star-shaped gold-based particles.

The sensors can be put inside insulin-producing cells before they’re transplanted into patients, both before, during and after differentiation, Digovich says.

The star shape helps amplify signal strength, she explains, allowing the particles to be monitored in vivo by Raman spectroscopy.

Each sensor is decorated with several hundred DNA probes that bind microRNAs, which can serve as specific biomarkers for physiological stress or tumorgenesis. According to Digovich, this allows the success of insulin-based cell transplants to be monitored.

“One of the big challenges in this space has been transplant variability,” she says. “There are patients who get one transplant of donor- or stem-cell-derived insulin-producing cells, and their diabetes is reversed. There are others for whom multiple transplants don’t work, or who [in the occasional unlikely case] can come off their immunosuppression.”

“The motivation for this work on real-time monitoring is being able to understand the engraftment challenges and how the cells are responding, to reduce that variability.”

Although their cells don’t routinely include a biosensor for insulin production, which could be used in a bioreactor, Digovich says the sensor has already been designed in-house and could be rolled out in the near future.

“That sensor is made and designed, and it is designed as something we could use for monitoring during manufacturing, or even further back in R&D to optimize [cell] differentiation.”

She is open to potential partners approaching Minutia about this technology.

Digovich’s TEDx talk on insulin-producing cells is available here: https://youtu.be/9jfnJ2gjVXg.

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