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Two researchers discussed the topic of “Biological electronics and sensors for medical applications” at the CIMIT Forum on Oct. 23 at Simches Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Presenting were Luke Theogarajan, PhD, of MIT, and Timothy Swager, PhD, John D. MacArthur Professor and Department Head, Department of Chemistry, MIT.
Dr. Theogarajan’s topic was “Electronic and ionic neural interfaces.” He said that neural prostheses are being developed around the world to alleviate various debilitating conditions. The key component of any neural prosthesis is the biotic-abiotic interface. He discussed the conventional electronic coupling to neurons that has been successful in areas like cochlear prosthesis.
“The main objective is to enable the design of efficient interfaces so that we can build devices to alleviate some of the debilitating conditions that arise from neural damage like blindness, Parkinson's disease etc. I am not with the clinic at MGH though I work with surgeons at MEEI and in the context of the Boston Retinal Implant project at the Veterans Administration, Boston. I am always looking for collaborations with like-minded people.”
Dr. Swager’s subject was “Electronic polymers and biosensors.” He focused on the applications of conjugated (electronic) polymers to detect molecules of biological origin and develop systems that can be used to measure biological activity. The mechanisms discussed will make use of optical detection and the ability of electronic polymers to amplify.”
He said, “My research program is broad and we are working on many applications in sensors (environmental, national security, and miscellaneous industries). The road to the clinic for new technologies is a difficult and slow one. I suspect if all goes well, in 5-10 years we could have something out there.”
The polymers may soon provide biologists with a valuable research tool, and Swager’s group is currently experimenting with polymer-coated microspheres. At the center of these microspheres, different fluorescent molecules provide a baseline that allows investigators to make quantitative measurements of quenching. The microspheres, however, have not been perfected. Proteins and other undesirable macromolecules tend to stick to the microspheres’ surfaces, preventing analytes from binding. Swager’s group is attempting to circumvent this problem by encasing the microspheres in a hydrogel that macromolecules can’t penetrate. In the future, microspheres, or nanospheres, may become part of new biological assays, and this technology might even lead to particles that could be introduced into the human body to track down metabolites associated with tumors and other problems.
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