SAN JOSE, Calif. Seven researchers are tapping nanotechnology to deliver a device that could some day conduct as many as many as 2,000 tests on individual biological cells in real time. The so-called nanolab chip could leapfrog today's gene and protein microarrays to create a much faster and more granular device than exists today for early diagnosis and drug screening.
The chip uses microfludics to transport individual cells across the device, nanowire sensors less than 10 nm in diameter to identify genes and proteins in the cell and nanomechanical sensors to detect protein and gene interactions. The chip may be able to do in a few minutes with a few cells what today's microarrays take hours or a day to accomplish with relatively large biological samples.
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology, UCLA and the Institute for Systems Biology (Seattle) are each building a part of the device. "We are at the stage of trying to integrate all these technologies together. That turns out to be a significant challenge," said James R. Heath, a professor of chemistry at CalTech in Pasadena.
By the end of the year, the group hopes the device will be able to identify a dozen protein or gene signatures in 20 minutes by integrating two or more of the device subsystems now in development. A year later, the group aims to detect up to 50 signatures in less than a minute based on integrating three or more subsystems.
"Once we get there, we will be able to demonstrate it's possible to go to 1,000 to 2,000 signatures," said Heath.
"This brings molecular biology to reality. If you can do these tests in real time using just one to five cells it changes your ability to diagnose diseases and screen for new drugs," Heath said.