Frequent, widespread use of these devices is hindered by the fact that producing them is a painstaking process that involves at least 400 printing steps and costs approximately $500 per microarray.
MIT's nano-printing method requires only three steps and could reduce the cost of each microarray to under $50. "This would completely revolutionize diagnostics," said Stellacci. With the ability to mass produce these devices and thus make DNA analysis routine, "we could know years in advance of cancer, hepatitis, or Alzheimer's."
Another benefit would be large-scale diagnostics that could provide useful information about disease. Take diabetes. "We don't know if it's genetic. The only way to find out is to test a lot of people," said Stellacci. "The more we test with microarrays, the more we know about illnesses, and the more we can detect them."
SuNS has applications beyond DNA microarrays. Materials both organic and inorganic (metal nanoparticles, for example) can be made to assemble along a pattern composed of DNA strands. This makes SuNS a versatile technology that could be used to produce other complex nano-devices currently manufactured slowly and expensively: micro- and nano-fluidics channels, single-electron transistors, optical biosensors and metallic wires, to name a few.
Stellacci recently received renewed funding from the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation to continue work on SuNS. The work is also funded by the National Science Foundation.
A version of this article appeared in the May 18, 2005 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 49, Number 28).