Molecular and Cellular Sensors for Cancer Diagnosis and Research
Our research efforts are directed towards developing and engineering new sensors and probes for the detection and diagnosis of disease and the study of biological function. The ultimate goal of this effort is to produce new tools for medicine and medical research. The projects underway involve aspects of diverse disciplines ranging from biomolecular chemistry, molecular biology, and cell biology to materials science and nanotechnology.
Nanoscale sensors for the detection of cancer biomarkers
Advances in genomic and proteomic methods now allow diagnosis of disease based on molecular profiling. The detection of a molecular analytes and use of this type of information for disease diagnosis requires methods with superior sensitivity and specificity, along with high-throughput. We are developing new analytical methods with these properties that will permit the direct readout of nucleic acid sequences and protein biomarkers. Novel technologies for ultrasensitive nucleic acids sensing have been developed in our laboratories that use electrochemical methods for readout. Nanomaterials play an important role in this effort, as detection sensitivity is greatly enhanced when measurements are performed at the nanoscale. Our aim is to generate sensors applicable to the diagnosis of cancer and other disease states.
Biotemplated quantum dots
Functionalized semiconductor quantum dots serve as powerful imaging agents within cells. Through their strong optical emissions, they illuminate tumors and other harbingers of disease. They may enable the highly specific detection of a range of diseases at the earliest stages.
We are pursuing a new and improved class of semiconductor quantum dots that are built using nucleic acids as templating agents. We have shown that, by seeding the growth of our nanocrystals using a DNA and RNA templates, we are able to produce quantum dots that are efficient, stable emitters in the infrared wavelengths (so-called biological window) in which living organisms are much more transparent than in the visible wavelengths, and in which living organisms’ autofluorescence is orders of magnitude lower than in the visible.
Controlling the intracellular localization of synthetic molecules is essential for effective drug development. Nonetheless, rational control over intracellular trafficking of small molecules has remained a challenge. We use peptide-based conjugates in an effort to deduce rules for manipulating intracellular localization of bioactive molecules. These compounds also provide useful tools for the cellular delivery of chemically or biologically active species and can be used to study organelle-specific processes.