Molecularly Imprinted Polymers (MIPs) are formed in the presence of templates, the template being the molecule you want to capture. Once the molecule is removed in a rinsing process, the polymer maintains its ability capture the target molecule again if it comes in contact by leaving complementary cavities behind. The functional mechanism is similar to antibodies or enzymes.
The polymer can be designed to bind to a wide range of targets, including metal ions, proteins, phenols, peptides or steroid hormones. A molecular weight of 150Da to 1000Da is in the comfort zone for binding, though much smaller metal ions can be bound. Much bigger molecules such as proteins can be bound using a variation on the original approach known as epitope printing. The polymer can capture about 80% of the targeted material from a flow, even when the targets are in concentrations as low as a few parts per billion. A system set up with banks of polymer cartridges in series would result in capture rates near 100%.
Targets bound to the polymers are rinsed off by inducing a sudden pH change, producing a broth rich in target material.
Rather than being used as a sensor, as demonstrable in previous commercial applications of MIPs, the intention is to find new industrial scale applications. Instead of detecting or measuring the presence of a target material, they will be used to filter large volumes of material in solution, working in a similar way to a water cartridge. This will enable the industrial user to capture unwanted materials and/or valuable materials.