MIT Researchers create sensors powerful enough to detect changes in a single protein

This new sensor array system could potentially lead to new breakthroughs in biopharmaceutical treatments.

Although carbon nanotubes have since long been associated with new breakthroughs in computer science, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have now found an alternative use for them – medicine and chemical engineering.

Researchers at MIT have published a paper in the journal Nature Nanotechnology in which they describe how they have managed to modify carbon nanotubes to create instruments that are so sensitive so as to detect the secretion of a single protein molecule by a cell.

While the nanometer-thick carbon nanotubes are naturally fluoresce when exposed to laser light however in order to make them into highly sensitive sensors, the scientists had to first coat them with materials with which they can bind the target molecules.

In their experiment, the researchers coated the nanotubes with chains of DNA known as aptamers. As a result, when the target molecule binds to the DNA chains, the glow of the nanotube can be recorded in a measurable way.

The “sensor array” can be set up on a microscope slide and when a bacteria, yeast or human cell is placed inside the array, the sensors will detect the presence of the target protein.

Although the researchers have only tested this methodology with just two different proteins, as yet, it could potentially lead to new breakthroughs in biopharmaceutical treatments.

Already other researchers are working on ways to re-engineer a patient’s own cells to secrete beneficial proteins and this new sensor array system could be crucial to testing these treatments.

Furthermore, this new sensor array system could also open up new vistas of learning and understanding on how neurotransmitters, bacterias and viruses communicate.

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