Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NMR advance relies on microscopic detector

15.05.2007
Technology similar to Wi-Fi laptop antennas could vastly improve diagnostics

Detecting the molecular structure of a tiny protein using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) currently requires two things: a million-dollar machine the size of a massive SUV, and a large sample of the protein under study.

Now, researchers from MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms report the development of a radically different approach to NMR. The new highly sensitive technique, which makes use of a microscopic detector, decreases by several orders of magnitude the amount of protein needed to measure molecular structure.

The new technology could ultimately lead to the proliferation of tabletop NMR devices in every research laboratory and medical office. Among other things, such devices could prove invaluable in diagnosing a variety of diseases.

"It's revolutionary," said Shuguang Zhang, one of the authors and associate director of MIT's Center for Biological Engineering. "It's not just incremental progress."

The research team reports the work in the online and print editions of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of May 14. Lead author Yael Maguire, a former MIT graduate student who earned his Ph.D. for this work, will give a talk on it May 16 at the VII European Protein Symposium in Stockholm.

NMR, along with X-ray crystallography, is commonly used to determine the structure of proteins and other molecules. NMR probes normally consist of a coil that surrounds the sample being studied. The coil creates a magnetic field that interacts with the nuclear spin of atoms in the sample, and those interactions reveal how the atoms are connected.

With current NMR machines, you need about 1017 (more than a million
billion) molecules of a protein to determine its molecular structure.
Some researchers have tried to make tiny coils to study smaller samples, but it has proven very difficult to scale these to small sizes to analyze tiny samples and to create high throughput methods.

Instead, research originally aimed at improving quantum computing led the MIT researchers to a completely different approach based on guiding waves.

"We were trying to get away from coils and see if we could find a new way to look at it," said Maguire, now a visiting researcher at MIT and chief technology officer of Cambridge-based ThingMagic.

How it works

The new approach starts with technology similar to the Wi-Fi antennas found in laptop computers. These antennas consist of a flat strip of metal. Using a laser, the MIT team made a microscopic defect (a slot) in such a conducting structure, known as a strip line. In that location a little bit of the magnetic field leaks out of the line, creating a uniform, concentrated magnetic field. That field allows the slot to be used as an NMR probe, in place of a coil.

The detector described in the PNAS paper is a plastic card about one-third the size of a credit card and is easy and inexpensive to produce. To get structural information, the new detector must still be placed in a massive machine housing a superconducting magnet, just as the coil probes are. However, the MIT researchers anticipate that the microslot's small sample volume will allow much smaller tabletop spectrometers to be developed.

Zhang said such NMR devices could prove especially valuable in diagnosing diseases caused by misfolded proteins, such as Alzheimer's and Huntington's, or prion diseases like Cruetzfeld-Jakob disease. It could also allow early detection of glaucoma and cataracts, which could be diagnosed by testing a single teardrop. "You could detect it so early it will become treatable," Zhang said.

The new technology could dramatically improve the rate of biomedical research, because it can take up to a year to obtain enough material for an NMR study using the coil probes, said co-author Professor Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms. That is "a major limiting step in drug discovery and studying biological pathways," he said.

The probes could also be used to make portable devices for diagnostics or soil analysis. And because the smaller devices are cheaper to make, they should be affordable even in developing countries where NMR machines are now rare, said Zhang.

Asking big questions

Maguire got the idea for the project after talking to Zhang and asking him what kind of new device would make the biggest impact in biology. For Zhang, the answer was immediate: improving NMR.

Elucidating structure is critically important for biologists because structure determines function, said Zhang. The goal for the project was to create an NMR detector sensitive enough to detect structural information using the amount of protein in a spot on a two-dimensional gel used for electrophoresis (about 1014 molecules).

The task was daunting. "Nobody in their right mind would try to take one spot from that gel and get a molecular structure from it," said Zhang.

However, Zhang said that he believes in the sentiment expressed by Francis Crick, the legendary biologist who determined the double helix structure of DNA along with James Watson: You need to ask big questions in order to get big answers.

Zhang adds that the project probably never would have happened without interdisciplinary collaboration: "Biologists would never have thought of this type of machine, but a physicist would never have asked the question," he said.

Before starting this project, Maguire and Gershenfeld, with co-author Isaac Chuang, had already used NMR to create early quantum computers.

Their effort to improve the computing capabilities turned out to be surprisingly relevant to detecting molecular structures, an "unexpected spinoff," said Gershenfeld.

"We were not at all thinking about biology, but this turned out to be exactly what was needed to improve biological sensitivity,"

Gershenfeld said.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Anne Trafton | MIT News Office
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Medical Engineering:

nachricht Novel breast tomosynthesis technique reduces screening recall rate
21.02.2017 | Radiological Society of North America

nachricht Biocompatible 3-D tracking system has potential to improve robot-assisted surgery
17.02.2017 | Children's National Health System

All articles from Medical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Impacts of mass coral die-off on Indian Ocean reefs revealed

21.02.2017 | Earth Sciences

Novel breast tomosynthesis technique reduces screening recall rate

21.02.2017 | Medical Engineering

Use your Voice – and Smart Homes will “LISTEN”

21.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>