Acute renal failure (ARI) is a common complication in major surgeries, and until recently its detection was based on a single biomarker, an increase in creatinine in body fluids, which requires a slow analytical process to be detected. Recently, the neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin protein (NGAL) has been identified as a much earlier biomarker in the ARI. The MAKI project, led by Dr. Claudio Parolo, from ICN2, and Dr. Gemma Aragay, from ICIQ, is developing a new method to simultaneously detect both biomarkers in urine samples, integrating into a single device a detector that reacts to the presence of creatinine producing fluorescence and an aptamer capable of detecting NGAL. The final goal of the project is to produce a portable sensor attached to a urinary catheter that allows creatinine and NGAL levels to be monitored with minimal effort by healthcare staff.
The MAKI project is a great example of how multidisciplinary research within the BIST community can provide a valuable service for the public. The success of MAKI requires the combination of different areas of expertise, ranging from chemistry, physics, and biotechnology to clinic and diagnostic work. Looking in more detail at the different contributions, the Ballester group (ICIQ) will provide decades of experience in the synthesis of organic receptors for small polar biologically relevant molecules and the understanding of self-assembly processes (non-covalent chemistry). The group will lead the synthesis of the creatinine fluorescent receptor, its proper functionalization and the accurate kinetic and thermodynamic characterization of the binding processes in solution. The Merkoçi group (ICN2) has been at the forefront of the biosensing field for the last fifteen years working on a variety of sensor architectures (optical, electrochemical) for different targets (protein, nucleic acids, small molecules) and for different applications (clinical, environmental and safety). They will oversee the aptamer engineering, surface modification, and development of the smartphone reader.