Biosensors: An Environmental, Medical and Industrial Approach

The video below presents  innovative cancer biosensors from Stanford University  


Biosensors for Industrial,

Environmental and Medical Purposes

Several factors drive technological innovation.  Things such as money and resources are vital for universities and research institutes to conduct experiments necessary to discover and invent new things.  Most new technology can trace its roots back to the labs in universities and thus funding for universities is crucial.  Aside from the topic of money, public support and the need for the technology to solve a certain problem almost always drive new technologies to be discovered.  Below presents three separate innovations dealing with biosensors.

Environmental/Industrial Application:

There are many services and products available to the public concerning the topic of biosensors. For instance there is the biosensor application dealing with strips of paper engulfed with carbon nanotubes that are thought to detect a harmful side product, microcystin-LR, that is produced by algae. This is useful because often municipal water sources are derived from bodies of water such as lakes, which often contain a substantial amount of algae. This device will help to prevent of cirrhosis of the liver by killing micoorganisms that would be harmful for the liver to process, which may eventually lead to liver cancer.  According to Nicholas Kotov, at the University of Michigan, microcystin-LR can not be detected accurately or often enough at municpal water treatment plants. The strip of paper with the nanotubes is a very ingenious invention. It works as the nanotubes conductivity changes. Before the nanotubes are added to the paper, they are given an antibody to microcystin-LR. Then as water containing microcystin-LR is soaked onto the paper, the antibodies on the nanotubes try to attack the microcystin-LR. As they move across to attack, the nanotubes detect the conductivity change caused by the motion of the antibodies.  This movement in turn is processed by a transducer, which calculates the bonding between the antibody and the microcystin-LR  and this information is processed digitally via a processor located on the chip.  The information can then be further processed to display user friendly information, such as biosensors located on the exterior such as a filter for the microcystin-LR or otherwise be sent wirelessly to an external computer which would display the data is a user friendly manner.

Medical Applications: 

 Another application involves cancer detection.  Collaborators at the University of Delaware and Jefferson Medical College have created a biosensor that can detect cancer cells in a single drop of water.  The biosensor can detect metastases or left over cancer cells that have been treated. This application could make sure that a cure stays a cure and that any future reoccurrence is detected in its very early stages when the cancer is only a few cells large. This will allow far greater chances for survival because the cancer can be detected before it metastasizes.  According to Dr. Panchapakesan from the University of Delaware, cancer can be detected within hours instead of days, which are usually required to analyze blood tests or biopsies.  Cancer can then be detected in real time and immediate responses can then be taken.  This biosensor works much in the same way as the water treatment sensor described above. Antibodies are infused to the biosensor. As the antibody attacks the cancer cell a change in electrical current is detected by the biosensor.  


  From the University of Arkansas comes a very innovative engineering researcher named Vijay Varadan, who is working to develop a wireless biosensor that will help doctors treat patients with neurological illnesses including those such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy.  Varadan is trying to build a biosensor that will monitor chemicals in the brain, including dopamine, that are related to certain disease such as Parkinson's.  Parkinson's disease involves unbalanced amounts of dopamine released at abnormal times and the release of dopamine, among other things, cause certain neurons to fire at abnormal times, thus causing unintentional body movements and tremors in Parkinson's patients.  Dopamine allows neurons in the brain to communicate and if dopamine levels become unbalanced, certain disease like Parkinson's result.  Veradan and his team are thus trying to develop  biosensors that could work in a system in the brain to detect dopamine levels and also ensure that electrical information passes smoothly between neurons.   Professor Varadan claims that " There is no cure for Parkinson’s, but if neurites in the brain can be manipulated properly, we can control symptoms of the disease. We can stop tremors, and patients can live relatively normal lives".  Similar communication techniques may also be used to allow communication with prosthetic body parts, allowing prosthetics to communicate directly with the brain.  Decoding  how messages are received and transmitted to various body parts must still be discovered, however.  In order for prosthetics to integrate with the body fully, the code must be deciphered and applied to the biosensors to allow such communication between organic and prosthetic parts.  

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