Researchers have developed a new method for evaluating drug safety that can detect stress on cells at earlier stages than current methods, which mostly rely on detecting cell death.
The new method uses a fluorescent sensor that is turned on in a cell when misfolded proteins begin to aggregate—an early sign of cellular stress. The method can be adapted to detect protein aggregates caused by other toxins as well as diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
“Drug-induced protein stress in cells is a key factor in determining drug safety,” says senior author Xin Zhang, assistant professor of chemistry and of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State.
“Drugs can cause proteins—which are long strings of amino acids that need to be precisely folded to function properly—to misfold and clump together into aggregates that can eventually kill the cell. We set out to develop a system that can detect these aggregates at very early stages and that also uses technology that is affordable and accessible to many laboratories,” Zhang says.