January 25, 2007
Nanotechnology Measures Activity Of Single Cells

A method of measuring the molecules created by a single gene's expression uses nanotechnology to accomplish this feat.

A new nanotechnology that can examine single molecules in order to determine gene expression, paving the way for scientists to more accurately examine single cancer cells, has been developed by an interdisciplinary team of researchers at UCLA's California Nanosystems Institute (CNSI), New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and Veeco Instruments, a nanotechnology company. Their work appears in the January issue of the journal Nanotechnology.

This ability to measure the expression of a single gene in a single cell is part of a larger (or smaller) trend: The development of tools that can measure and manipulate biological systems at the scale of their smallest individual components.

Cancer researchers and other biomedical researchers have spent decades trying and failing to cure many diseases because they lacked the tools needed to figure out the mechanisms of a large variety of diseases. What is going to make the next 20 years so different than what has come before is the development of tools for manipulation and detailed measurement of activities inside of cells.

Their use of the phrase "individual transcript molecules" sounds like they can measure the presence of individual molecules of messenger RNA.

Previously, researchers have been able to determine gene expression using microarray technology or DNA sequencing. However, such processes could not effectively measure single gene transcripts—the building blocks of gene expression. With their new approach, the researchers of the work reported in Nanotechnology were able to isolate and identify individual transcript molecules—a sensitivity not achieved with earlier methods.

"Gene expression profiling is used widely in basic biological research and drug discovery," said Jason Reed of UCLA's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the study's lead author. "Scientists have been hampered in their efforts to unlock the secrets of gene transcription in individual cells by the minute amount of material that must be analyzed. Nanotechnology allows us to push down to the level of individual transcript molecules."

Biomedical science is going to be revolutionized by "GRIN" technology that will be much cheaper and more powerful.

"We are likely to see more of these kinds of highly multi-disciplinary research aimed at single molecule sequencing, genomics, epigenomic, and proteomic analysis in the future," added Bud Mishra, a professor of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Cell Biology from NYU's Courant Institute and School of Medicine. "The most exciting aspect of this approach is that as we understand how to intelligently combine various components of genomics, robotics, informatics, and nanotechnology—the so-called GRIN technology—the resulting systems will become simple, inexpensive, and commonplace."

Computers got cheaper because they kept getting smaller. Microfluidic devices and microsensors on chips are going to do the same thing to biological science and medicine. Small and mass produced devices driven by complex software will accelerate the rate of advance of biomedical research by an order of magnitude or more. We will develop cures for almost every disease and rejuvenation technologies as well.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 January 25 10:31 PM  Nanotech for Biotech

Gerald Hib bs said at January 26, 2007 7:20 AM:

I'm certainly hopeful that we will indeed get these anti-aging techs going and quickly. One thing I've been wondering about. Should the Democrats manage to get us into socialized medicine and do the pharmaceutical companies what they've done to the vaccine makers then what does that do to the time frame of these medical breakthroughs? Anyone have any thoughts? My own is that should we follow that course in the long term we will spend much more money and have many more deaths since we'll be stuck with contemporary medicine longer.

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