Nanoparticles are already used in many materials and areas, ranging from textiles to scientific and medical research. The global scientific community is keenly interested in nanoparticle research and Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Deigner, professor in the Faculty of Medical and Life Sciences at Furtwangen University of Applied Sciences (HFU) is no exception. Deigner works on optimising nanoparticles for application in lateral flow assays. As well as carrying out intensive research into biomarkers, Deigner is also dean of the HFU’s Faculty of Medical and Life Sciences and president of the European, Middle Eastern and African Society for Biopreservation and Biobanking (ESBB).
Lateral flow assays are biochemical tests that detect the presence (or absence) of a target analyte. The tests are used for a broad range of scientific and clinical applications, including home testing. One of the best known applications of lateral flow tests is the home pregnancy test. The assays are based on binding antibodies to the target analyte using methods such as thin-layer chromatography and immunostaining. Lateral flow immunoassays are constantly being optimised, and researchers are also increasingly focussing on the use of nanoparticles as labels and visual indicators.
Lateral flow assays are popular detection methods for scientists due to their diverse range of applications: "Lateral flow assays involving nanoparticles really fascinate me. This is partly because nanoparticles can interact with biomolecules and organisms, and partly because of models and the quantitative and theoretical side of things," says Hans-Peter Deigner.
"A broad understanding of chemistry is required to gain in-depth insights into any of the life sciences," says Deigner who laid the foundations for his scientific career when he studied pharmacy at the University of Heidelberg. He has held senior positions in numerous biotechnology companies (e.g. SIRS Lab GmbH, Jena; Biocrates Life Sciences AG, Innsbruck) as well as at universities in the USA and the UK (e.g. professor of biomedical chemistry, Norwich, UK) and is now a researcher at the HFU in Furtwangen where he works specifically on biomarkers, molecular diagnostics and special aspects of systems biology. In addition to a growing range of applications in life sciences research, nanoparticles have become an integral part of everyday life. They are used, for example, in creams and lotions and to reduce odours in textiles and packaging materials. They are also becoming increasingly important in the field of biomedicine. Significant progress can be expected, inter alia, in therapeutic applications where nanoparticles are increasingly used as vehicles for targeted drug delivery ("drug targeting"). They are also used to improve the performance of diagnostic tests.
Thanks to their (different) optical properties, nanoparticles can in principle be used to perform a parallel analysis of several analytes in one sample, for example several biomarkers in blood and serum. The challenge lies in coordinating the detection system and their physical and chemical properties, including optical ones. The detected signals then need to be assigned and "converted" into analyte concentrations so that they can be simultaneously quantified.
There is an urgent need for multiplex analyses, as a precise diagnosis of patients or analysis of foreign substances (for example in food) depends on the quantification of several parameters ("multi-parameter diagnostics"). Nanoparticles have interesting optical properties and a number of advantages in terms of detection limits and signal stability. "However, only a small number of multiplex tests involving nanoparticles have been developed for use in routine diagnostics. Hans-Peter Deigner: "We have set up a cooperative project called MultiFlow that aims to improve the efficiency of lateral flow tests." The project also involves Professor Matthias Kohl (HFU), the diagnostics company R-Biopharm AG in Darmstadt and Professor Stefan Laufer from the University of Tübingen.
Matthias Kohl's team is in charge of the quantitative aspects (e.g. the development of statistical models), while Deigner's team, along with Laufer's team in Tübingen, are concentrating on producing and characterising suitable nanoparticles. The MultiFlow project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
For Deigner, it is of major importance that the test actually benefits people. His long experience in biomarker research offers many possibilities here. "The accurate diagnosis of patients is essential for targeted therapies, therapy monitoring and prognosis, and hence for individualised medicine applications. This benefits every single patient. In addition, lateral flow assays are easy to handle and can be applied at home, saving patients what could be a long journey to a university hospital for examinations. Another advantage of the rapid tests is that the results are available within a few minutes, as no complex and time-consuming sample preparations are necessary. The blood glucose test used by diabetics is a well-known example of a rapid diagnostic test. Rapid tests are also used for quality controls in the food and feed industries.
The creation of the Institute of Precision Medicine (IPM) at the HFU's Institute of Applied Research (IAF) is a logical consequence of this work. In addition to Deigner, Professor Markus Egert, a specialist in the area of household hygiene and the microbiology of everyday objects, is also involved in the creation of this institute. The establishment of the IPM is one of several ways of shaping the education and research landscape. Deigner is very keen on developing education and research, as his role as dean of the Faculty of Medical and Life Sciences at the HFU shows. In addition to being active in life sciences research in Baden-Württemberg and Germany, Deigner also actively contributes to research activities on the international level through his role as president of the European, Middle Eastern and African Society for Biopreservation and Biobanking, ESBB. "My aim is to continue exploring new scientific perspectives. The work with nanoparticles, for use in areas such as multiplex tests, is one example of the versatility of our research," says Deigner.