Young Innovators Take Research in New Directions

"Detecting and identifying the presence of specific molecules and biological species are critical to medical diagnostics and biological research. For example cancers and other diseases can be detected by the presence of specific proteins or molecular markers in the blood stream. However, current detection methods either require complicated sample preparation, such as fluorescent labeling or amplification procedures, or are limited in sensitivities.


"Huang, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, is proposing to build ultrasensitive biosensors using the nanomaterial graphene — a single atom-thick carbon lattice. This could make the detection process significantly more sensitive than conventionally used materials. Her NIH Director’s New Innovator Award will go toward this research.

"'The potential ultrasensitivity in a biological sensor composed of graphene nanostructures could result in the detection of diseases at an earlier stage in patients than possible today,' Huang said. 'For example, cancers could be detected when they are very small and perhaps even early enough where they are treatable.'

"When a molecule binds to a transistor surface, the charge that results can induce a change in the electrical current passing through the device. The ultrathin profile of graphene means that the total electrical signals of the graphene device can be easily modified by a small number of binding molecules, making these sensors very sensitive to the target molecules, such as cancer markers.

"With Huang’s design, a large array of detectors may be created for highly parallel sensing. These multiplexed sensors could decipher a large number of molecular markers and may eventually enable personalized diagnosis and treatment.

"'We have exciting projects in both nanoelectronics and biomaterials,' Huang said. 'The NIH support allows us to break down the boundaries and put our efforts into making significant progress on the interface between the two'"

By Wileen Wong Kromhout

[via newsroom.ucla]

UCLA, HSSEAS, Dept. of Materials Science and Engineering
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