The increased performance could greatly improve the early detection of cancer, Alzheimer's disease and other disorders by allowing doctors to detect far lower concentrations of telltale markers than was previously practical.
Princeton researchers dramatically improved the sensitivity of immunoassays, a common medical test, using the nanomaterial shown here. The material consists of a series of glass pillars in a layer of gold. Each pillar is speckled on its sides with gold dots and capped with a gold disk. Each pillar is just 60 nanometers in diameter, 1/1,000th the width of a human hair.
Credit: Stephen Chou/Analytical Chemistry
The breakthrough involves a common biological test called an immunoassay, which mimics the action of the immune system to detect the presence of biomarkers – the chemicals associated with diseases. When biomarkers are present in samples, such as those taken from humans, the immunoassay test produces a fluorescent glow (light) that can be measured in a laboratory. The greater the glow, the more of the biomarker is present. However, if the amount of biomarker is too small, the fluorescent light is too faint to be detected, setting the limit of detection. A major goal in immunoassay research is to improve the detection limit.
The Princeton researchers tackled this limitation by using nanotechnology to greatly amplify the faint fluorescence from a sample. By fashioning glass and gold structures so small they could only be seen with a powerful electron microscope, the scientists were able to drastically increase the fluorescence signal compared to conventional immunoassays, leading to a 3-million-fold improvement in the limit of detection. That is, the enhanced immunoassay would require 3 million times fewer biomarkers to be present compared to a conventional immunoassay. (In technical terms, the researchers measured an improvement in the detection limit from 0.9 nanomolars to 300 attomolars.)
"This advance opens many new and exciting opportunities for immunoassays and other detectors, as well as in disease early detection and treatment," said Stephen Chou, the Joseph C. Elgin Professor of Engineering, who led the research team. "Furthermore, the new assay is very easy to use, since for the person conducting the test, there will be no difference from the old one– they do the procedure in exactly the same way."
The researchers published their results in two recent journal articles. One, published May 10 in Nanotechnology, describes the physics and engineering of the fluorescence-enhancing material. The other, published April 20 in Analytical Chemistry, demonstrates the effect in immunoassays. In addition to Chou, the authors include post-doctoral researchers Weihua Zhang, Liangcheng Zhou and Jonathan Hu and graduate students Fei Ding, Wei Ding, Wen-Di Li and Yuxuan Wang.
The work was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency and the National Science Foundation.
The key to the breakthrough lies in a new artificial nanomaterial called D2PA, which has been under development in Chou's lab for several years. D2PA is a thin layer of gold nanostructures surrounded glass pillars just 60 nanometers in diameter. (A nanometer is one billionth of a meter; that means about 1,000 of the pillars laid side by side would be as wide as a human hair.) The pillars are spaced 200 nanometers apart and capped with a disk of gold on each pillar. The sides of each pillar are speckled with even tinier gold dots about 10 to 15 nanometers in diameter. In previous work, Chou has shown that this unique structure boosts the collection and transmission of light in unusual ways -- in particular, a 1 billion-fold increase in an effect called surface Raman scattering. The current work now demonstrates a giant signal enhancement with fluorescence.
In a typical immunoassay, a sample such as blood, saliva or urine is taken from a patient and added to small glass vials containing antibodies that are designed to "capture" or bind to biomarkers of interest in the sample. Another set of antibodies that have been labeled with a fluorescent molecule are then added to the mix. If the biomarkers are not present in the vials, the fluorescent detection antibodies do not attach to anything and are washed away. The new technology developed at Princeton allows the fluorescence to be seen when very few antibodies find their mark.
In addition to diagnostic uses, immunoassays are commonly used in drug discovery and other biological research. More generally, fluorescence plays a significant role in other areas of chemistry and engineering, from light-emitting displays to solar energy harvesting, and the D2PA material could find uses in those fields, Chou said.
As next steps in his research, Chou said he is conducting tests to compare the sensitivity of the D2PA-enhanced immunoassay to a conventional immunoassay in detecting breast and prostate cancers. In addition he is collaborating with researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York to develop tests to detect proteins associated with Alzheimer's disease at a very early stage.
"You can have very early detection with our approach," he said.
Steven Schultz | EurekAlert!
Cnidarians remotely control bacteria
21.09.2017 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Immune cells may heal bleeding brain after strokes
21.09.2017 | NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...
Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...
Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...
For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.
MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...
19.09.2017 | Event News
12.09.2017 | Event News
06.09.2017 | Event News
21.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
21.09.2017 | Life Sciences
21.09.2017 | Health and Medicine