Microchips with biological functions now have a permanent place in biochemical analytics. These microchips are powerful tools for the rapid and reliable identification of bacteria, antibodies and new medical substances. However, the microtechnical production of microchips is very sophisticated and quite expensive. In a collaborative project, scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart and the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ) in Heidelberg succeeded in cutting the production costs for highly complex peptide arrays by a factor of 100 at the same time as being able to increase the number of functional peptides by a factor of 20.
The amino acid particles are printed layer by layer on the glass slide, one precisely on top of another, and they are subsequently linked. Compared to state-of-the-art biochips, printed peptide arrays are much more complex. They contain over 155,000 microspots on a carrier measuring 20 cm by 20 cm, and can be manufactured much faster at a price that is at least 100 times lower than that of conventionally manufactured peptide arrays. The arrays can now be offered for a few cents per peptide. This quantum leap in terms of price and performance opens up new perspectives in analytics. For example, peptide arrays can be used for the complete analysis of the antibody and T-cell specificities of an individual patient or for the effective screening of new medical substances, vaccines and catalytic functions in the field of chemistry. In addition, the inexpensive production of the microchips considerably simplifies all other applications of this technology, for example, the individual diagnosis of patients through their doctor. Experts expect that the new method for the production of highly complex biochips will become a key technology and make considerable contributions to the resolution of immanent questions in the life sciences field. The research teams were awarded the Stifterverband Science Prize 2008 for the development of this manufacturing process. The work was funded with own resources and through grants from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the VW Foundation.