Affordable, Hand-Held Biosensor For Diagnostics

October 31, 1997

A portable, hand-held biosensor capable of detecting a wide range of medically important chemical compounds has been created by a team of researchers from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) of La Jolla, California and the University of California, San Diego.

The biosensor, which changes colors to signal the presence of specific molecules, may represent a new type of practical and affordable device for a variety of medical applications. Potential uses range from the screening of chemicals for drugs to diagnosing illness at the bedside without having to send samples to the lab.

The work, "A Porous Silicon-Based Optical Interferometric Biosensor," was published in today's issue of the journal Science.

According to M. Reza Ghadiri, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry and The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology, TSRI, and study co-author, "It is exciting to be able to adapt such inexpensive and readily available material for use in this new technology. We are hopeful that we will see commercial applications within two to five years."

"One can envision something like a Star Trek medical ?tricorder' that a nurse might bring to the bedside of a patient," said Michael Sailor, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSD, and co-author of the study.

For non-trekkies, a medical tricorder is a hand-held device that performs all the duties of a clinical laboratory, capable of sampling, analyzing, reporting and otherwise diagnosing a patient's ailments.

"In the original television show, Dr. McCoy would point the device at a patient and it would take a sample and read out all his problems," Sailor explained. "Our device was inspired by that image--a small, sensitive diagnostic unit that is very easy to use."

Also collaborating in the study were Victor S.-Y. Lin, and Kianoush Moteshari, researchers with TSRI; and, Keiki-Pua S. Dancil, a graduate student in Sailor's laboratory at UCSD.

As reported in the Science article, the new biosensor is able to detect many of the classic biological reactions that involve the recognition and binding of one molecule to another partner molecule.

In their tests, for example, the biosensor was able to match tiny concentrations of specific DNA sequences to its complementary strand, suggesting a potential role for a variety of genetic studies and tests, including DNA fingerprinting for clinical and forensic applications. Another biosensor proved sensitive to the binding of certain antibodies, manufactured by the body's immune system, to small amounts of their specific antigens--a class of molecules produced by invading organisms that include viruses, bacteria, in addition to toxins and allergens.

The biosensor was able to detect DNA concentrations at levels of down to 9 femtograms per square millimeter. (A femtogram is a millionth of a billionth of a gram.) By comparison, current technologies are only capable of detecting amounts about 100 to 1,000 times greater than the new biosensor.

"We have found nothing as simple or practical as this device with as much sensitivity," said Ghadiri. "The results show that we can sense very small molecules that in other systems do not produce a very big change. In our system, we see a huge change."

The new biosensor is based on work conducted during the past few years in Sailor's laboratory with porous silicon, small chips of silicon sculpted through a chemical etching process into a forest of tiny trees. When a one centimeter-square of this silicon forest is stretched out, its surface area would be about as large as a standard desktop.e discovery of some "new physics" inside the porous silicon film. Though not fully understood, the scientists speculate that the binding of molecules to the surface significantly alters the refractive index of the silicon matrix itself, resulting in a major increase in sensitivity.

"It's as if the color of the film itself is changing because we induce this change in the silicon nanoparticles," said Sailor. "So that's the amazing thing. That was the Eureka thing."

Funding for the research was provided by the Office of Naval Research and the National Institutes of Health.

Scripps Research Institute

Related Molecules Articles from Brightsurf:

Finally, a way to see molecules 'wobble'
Researchers at the University of Rochester and the Fresnel Institute in France have found a way to visualize those molecules in even greater detail, showing their position and orientation in 3D, and even how they wobble and oscillate.

Water molecules are gold for nanocatalysis
Nanocatalysts made of gold nanoparticles dispersed on metal oxides are very promising for the industrial, selective oxidation of compounds, including alcohols, into valuable chemicals.

Water molecules dance in three
An international team of scientists has been able to shed new light on the properties of water at the molecular level.

How molecules self-assemble into superstructures
Most technical functional units are built bit by bit according to a well-designed construction plan.

Breaking down stubborn molecules
Seawater is more than just saltwater. The ocean is a veritable soup of chemicals.

Shaping the rings of molecules
Canadian chemists discover a natural process to control the shape of 'macrocycles,' molecules of large rings of atoms, for use in pharmaceuticals and electronics.

The mysterious movement of water molecules
Water is all around us and essential for life. Nevertheless, research into its behaviour at the atomic level -- above all how it interacts with surfaces -- is thin on the ground.

Spectroscopy: A fine sense for molecules
Scientists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics have developed a unique laser technology for the analysis of the molecular composition of biological samples.

Looking at the good vibes of molecules
Label-free dynamic detection of biomolecules is a major challenge in live-cell microscopy.

Colliding molecules and antiparticles
A study by Marcos Barp and Felipe Arretche from Brazil published in EPJ D shows a model of the interaction between positrons and simple molecules that is in good agreement with experimental results.

Read More: Molecules News and Molecules Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to