This release has been revised from its original version
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- A new MIT microchip system promises to speed up the separation and sorting of biomolecules such as proteins. The work is important because it could help scientists better detect certain molecules, or biomarkers, associated with diseases, potentially leading to earlier diagnoses or treatments.
The microchip system has an extremely tiny sieve structure built into it that can sort through continuous streams of biological fluids and separate proteins accurately by size. Conventional separation methods employ gels, which are slower and more labor-intensive to process. The new microchip system could sort proteins in minutes, as compared to the hours necessary for gel-based systems.
The MIT team's results appear in the Feb. 5 issue of Nature Nanotechnology.
The new technology is an advance from a one-dimensional sieve structure reported by the same MIT group last year. The key to this new advance, called an anisotropic nanofluidic sieving structure, is that the researchers have designed the anisotropic sieve in two orthogonal dimensions (at a right angle), which enables rapid continuous-flow separation of the biological sample. This allows continuous isolation and harvesting of subsets of biomolecules that researchers want to study. And that increases the probability of detecting even the smallest number of molecules in the sample.
"With this technology we can isolate interesting proteins faster and more efficiently. And because it can process such small biologically relevant entities, it has the potential to be used as a generic molecular sieving structure for a more complex, integrated biomolecule preparation and analysis system," said Jongyoon Han, the Karl Van Tassel Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and associate professor of biological engineering at MIT and head of the MIT team.