The presence of mobile aptamers in the cell presents the possibility that they would bind their small molecule targets and move them away from the membrane, thereby increasing the intracellular concentration of the aptamer target by preventing its export. This would provide a means of increasing the effectiveness of drugs.
Aptamers can be selected to be highly specific and to have high affinities for their targets. They are also very stable to heat and long-term storage. The added advantage that aptamers generally change in structure upon binding their specific ligand makes it possible to incorporate them into a variety of analytical devises. The Nilsen-Hamilton lab has collaborated with several groups to select new aptamers, to understand how their structures are influenced by ligand binding, and to develop analytical instruments that use aptamers to detect biological compounds and chemicals.
Many biological agents, such as viruses and bacterial toxins, could be used to threaten a Nation if they were in the wrong hands. To protect ourselves against such threats, we are developing sensors based on aptamers that can detect these threats in the air and give early warning of their presence.