Plastic antibodies – research tools for diagnostics, cell biology and more

Molecularly Imprinted Polymers (MIPs) are generic alternatives to antibodies and natural receptors in diagnostics and in separation. Here we report an efficient and flexible method for automatic synthesis of plastic antibodies2MIP nanoparticles using solid-phase automated photo/chemical reactor. Our approach requires a column-cartridge with an immobilised template docked into a thermostatic computer-controllable reactor, thereby allowing controlled manufacturing of affinity nanoparticles with narrow size distributions in the range 20-400 nm. We demonstrate the synthesis of water-soluble affinity nanoparticles for various targets such as vancomycin, peptides, proteins and virus particles with minimal manual intervention and short reaction-cycle times.

Properties of MIP nanoparticles (‘plastic antibodies’):

  • Cross-linked robust methacrylate polymers with size 20-400 nm;
  • High affinity: (sub-nM KD) similar to monoclonal antibodies;
  • Controllable selectivity: can be ‘monoclonal’ or ‘polyclonal’);
  • Robust: can be autoclaved and stored for 1 year at ambient and elevated temperature without loss of recognition properties. There is no need for cold chain supply). Can work in organic solvents;
  • Easy to modify: fluorescent, magnetic or catalytic group can be integrated into MIP network by copolymerisation or grafting;
  • Low cost end efficient: MIP nanoparticles can be produced at least 10 times cheaper than antibodies. The manufacturing time is 1 week;
  • Biocompatible: MIP nanoparticles have no obvious toxicity and they are capable of penetrating through cell membrane


MIP nanoparticles are suitable for practical applications in assays, sensors and in affinity chromatography. The synthesised nanoparticles also possess bioactive properties. Thus specific MIP nanoparticles made for trypsin and other enzymes are capable of activating or inhibiting enzyme activity.

Possible in vivo applications for such materials include: research tools, drug delivery, therapeutic (e.g. control of protein-protein interactions), diagnostic and bioimaging.

Sergey Piletsky
Chemistry Department, College of Science and Engineering, University of Leicester
T: +44 0116 294 4666

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