"Nanotechnology can be used to get better results in all categories that are important in DNA detection sensitivity, selectivity, cost, ease of use and speed," said Chad Mirkin, director of Northwesterns Institute for Nanotechnology, who led the research team. "The electrical DNA detection method that we have invented excels in all of these areas and has a good chance to become a truly disruptive technology."
Northwestern scientists used a synthetic sequence of DNA that models the anthrax lethal factor to test a technology that could displace polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and conventional fluorescence probes in clinical diagnostics and make point-of-care DNA testing possible in the doctors office and on the battlefield. A simple electrical signal indicates that target DNA has been detected, and hundreds of pathogenic agents could be monitored simultaneously.
Results will be published in the Feb. 22 issue of the journal Science. Notably, the new DNA detection method eliminates the expensive and currently necessary step of heating the gene chip and also improves upon optical detection methods reported previously by Northwestern in Science.
Once optimized, the technology could be used to quickly and easily detect biological weapons such as anthrax and smallpox as well as a wide range of genetic and pathogenic diseases, from genetic markers for cancer and neurodegenerative diseases to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Results could be available in a matter of minutes instead of days.
The technology, which has not been fully optimized yet, is 10 times more sensitive and 100,000 times more selective than conventional methods.
Contact: Megan Fellman