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New device can help defend against novel biological agents

The ability to analyze and defend against novel biological agents has been strengthened by the development of a new device that can monitor the metabolism of living cells in near real time.

"So far we have been lucky that terrorists have used well-known biological agents like anthrax and sarin gas," says David Cliffel, assistant professor of chemistry at Vanderbilt University, who led the development group working under the auspices of the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education. "But how will we respond if one of these groups uses recent advances in genetic engineering to produce an agent that is new and unknown?"

Part of the answer, Cliffel says, is the device he and his colleagues have developed, called a four-channel microphysiometer. It is a modification of a 10-year-old commercial device called the Cytosensor made by the company Molecular Devices that measures changes in acidity in a small chamber holding between 100,000 to 1,000,000 individual cells. Cliffel's research team has added three additional sensors so that the machine can simultaneously chart minute-by-minute variations in the concentrations of oxygen, glucose, and lactic acid, in addition to pH.

The added capability reported in the Feb. 1 issue of the journal Analytical Chemistry and now available online is important because the basic metabolism of a cell involves consuming oxygen and glucose and producing lactic and carbonic acid. As a result, monitoring variations in these four chemicals allows researchers to quickly assess the impact that exposure to different chemicals have on the activity and health of relatively small groups of cells.

"I envision having a microphysiometer with an array of chambers," says Cliffel. "One of them contains heart cells, another contains kidney cells, another nerve cells and so on. Then, when an unknown agent is pumped into all these chambers, we quickly will be able to determine exactly which part of the body
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Contact: David F. Salisbury
david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu
615-343-6803
Vanderbilt University
9-Jan-2004


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