16 November 2022

Development of a new method for the detection of lipids in living cells

Development of a new method for the detection of lipids in living cells

A multidisciplinary research group at the University of Aveiro (UAveiro) has developed a family of markers for use in fluorescence microscopy of cells in culture or of whole organisms, including living cells. In prospect are solutions that contribute to the diagnosis and fight against, for example, metabolic diseases resulting from lipid accumulation, namely Gaucher, Farber, and Tay-Sachs diseases.

The ability to mark cells and identify and characterize structures inside cells, such as lipid aggregates, is essential for applied research, medical diagnosis, and drug development.

The multidisciplinary team included Artur Silva, currently Vice-Rector and professor at the Department of Chemistry, and Samuel Guieu, both researchers at REQUIMTE - Associated Laboratory for Green Chemistry - Clean Technologies and Processes, João Rocha, professor at the same department and researcher at CICECO - Aveiro Institute of Materials, as well as Sandra Vieira and Odete da Cruz e Silva, professors at the Department of Medical Sciences, and Roberto Dias, the last three are researchers at the Aveiro Institute of Biomedicine (IBIMED). External inventor Raquel Ruivo (former UAveiro student, now researcher at the Interdisciplinary Center for Marine and Environmental Research (CIIMAR), University of Porto) was also part of the team.

The technology consists of producing fluorophores (a component of a molecule that makes it fluorescent) by an efficient and inexpensive synthesis method that is non-toxic and rapidly penetrates living cells in culture and small organisms. The labeling protocol is fast and simple, based on the fluorophores changing color depending on the polarity of the medium in which they are immersed, allowing them to selectively mark lipid aggregates, which can then be used for detection and quantification in specific assays.

These markers can be used in live or fixed cell imaging, in organismal imaging, for example, in the labeling of zebrafish embryos; in the diagnosis of lipid-related diseases and the screening of drugs for these diseases; and in monitoring the lipid content of microalgae for biodiesel production.

The respective patent has already been registered for the European area.

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