Editorial Feature

Applying Synthetic Antibodies into Sensor Technology to Monitor Cancer and Diabetes

Several applications including sensor design, chemical catalysis and therapeutics demand exploration of molecular recognition methods which involves biological macromolecules such as aptamers and antibodies. The basis of bio-recognition is the formation of an interface or a binding pocket in a three-dimensional structure, which can recognize a specific molecule.

Recently, MIT researchers created synthetic heteropolymers that exhibit selective recognition of molecules of interest when constrained onto carbon nanotubes, which result in the development of novel durable sensors that can be used for diagnostic applications.

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Development of Polymer-based Sensors

The MIT researchers created novel sensors using a synthetic design approach to develop molecular recognition sites for specific targets.

The sensors were developed by using amphiphilic polymers to coat the coating carbon nanotubes which provides the polymers with hydrophilic and hydrophobic regions. These polymers are designed such that upon exposure to carbon nanotubes, their hydrophilic regions form a series of loops stretching away from tubes and hydrophobic regions latching onto the tubes like anchors.  

Researchers at MIT found that the loops formed by the hydrophilic regions tend to develop a new layer called corona around the nanotube. The loops inside the corona were found to be arranged accurately around the tube.

Researchers have also described heteropolymer nanotube recognition of L-thyroxine, estradiol and riboflavin.

Research Significance

Based on the most recent research on the development of synthetic antibodies, it is very difficult to predict molecular recognition based on the structure of the polymer and target molecule.

This approach in turn offers a wide array of binding sites for different target molecules, and it can be used to develop polymer-based sensors for monitoring diseases such as diabetes, inflammation or cancer. Researchers believe that they could also create recognition sites specific to carbohydrates, proteins, neurotransmitters, DNA and hormones.


The MIT research team stated that the tools required for developing these polymer-based sensors are accessible and highly inexpensive, and hence the team hopes that the sensors can be used to detect label-free molecules rapidly.

Researchers believe that this new approach of forming nanotube-polymer complexes to develop synthetic analogs to antibodies will exhibit an unparalleled potential to recognize any molecules of interest in the future, from biological molecules to environmental pollutants.


  • Creating synthetic antibodies – Machines like us
  • Scientists Create 'Synthetic Antibodies' Using Carbon Nanotubes - OSA
  • Synthetic polymers coating a nanoparticle are synthetic antibodies – Next Big Future

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