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New cell-based sensors sniff out danger like bloodhounds
Date:5/6/2008

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The researchers plan to use other specialized cells much like a canary in a coal mine. The cells would show stress or die when exposed to certain pathogens, and the sensing circuits monitoring them would trigger a warning—more quickly and accurately than in present systems.

The researchers are tackling the many challenges that must be met for such chips to become a reality. Abshire, for example, is building circuits that can interact with the cells and transmit alerts about their condition. Shapiro and Smela are working on micro-fluidics technology to get the cells where they need to be on the chip, and to keep them alive and healthy once they're in position. Smela is also developing packages that incorporate the kind of wet, life-sustaining environments the biological components need, while keeping the sensitive electronic parts of the sensor dry.

Current research funding for the cell-based sensor technology comes from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Homeland Security and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Potential applications for their use extend well beyond national security, however.

For example, cell-based sensors could detect the presence of harmful bacteria in ground beef or spinach, or detect the local origin of specialty foods like cheeses or wines. In the pharmaceutical industry they could identify the most promising medicines in advance of animal and human trials, increasing cost-effectiveness and speed in developing new drugs. And they could speed up research in basic science. Imagine tiny biology labs, each one on a chip, in an array of thousands of chips that could fit in the palm of your hand.

Such arrays could advance biologists' fundamental understanding about the sense of smell or help doctors better see how the immune system works. They could be placed on fish as they swim in the ocean to monitor water quality, or set on a skyscraper's roof to evaluate air pollution.

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Contact: Rebecca Copeland
rebeccac@umd.edu
301-405-6602
University of Maryland
Source:Eurekalert  

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