Researchers have developed a human cell ‘membrane on a chip’ that allows continuous monitoring of how drugs and infectious agents interact with cells, which may soon be used to test potential drug candidates for Covid-19.

The devices, which were developed by researchers from the University of Cambridge, Cornell University and Stanford University, have been formed on electronic chips while preserving the orientation and functionality of a cell membrane. The chips measure changes in an overlying membrane extracted from a cell, allowing scientists to understand how it interacts with the outside world. Because they don’t rely on live cells, which can be technically challenging to keep alive, measurements can be taken over an extended time period.

The technology has been used to successfully monitor the activity of ion channels, a class of protein in human cells that is targeted by more than 60% of approved pharmaceuticals.

Cornell University researcher Dr Han-Yuan Liu said: “With this device, we are not exposed to risky working environments for combating SARS-CoV-2. The device will speed up the screening of drug candidates and provide answers to questions about how this virus works.”