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MIT's molecular sieve advances protein research

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--New MIT technology promises to speed up the accurate sorting of proteins, work that may ultimately aid in the detection and treatment of disease.

Separating proteins from complex biological fluids such as blood is becoming increasingly important for understanding diseases and developing new treatments. The molecular sieve developed by MIT engineers is more precise than conventional methods and has the potential to be much faster.

The team's results appear in recent issues of Physical Review Letters, the Virtual Journal of Biological Physical Research and the Virtual Journal of Nanoscale Science and Technology.

The key to the molecular sieve, which is made using microfabrication technology, is the uniform size of the nanopores through which proteins are separated from biological fluids. Millions of pores can be spread across a microchip the size of a thumbnail.

The sieve makes it possible to screen proteins by specific size and shape. In contrast, the current technique used for separating proteins, gel electrophoresis, is time-consuming and less predictable. Pore sizes in the gels vary, and the process itself is not well understood by scientists.

"No one has been able to measure the gel pore sizes accurately," said Jongyoon Han, the Karl Van Tassel Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Biological Engineering at MIT. "With our nanopore system, we control the pore size precisely, so we can control the sieving process of the protein molecules."

That, in turn, means proteins can be separated more efficiently, which should help scientists learn more about these crucial molecules, said Han, who also has appointments in MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics, Computational and Systems Biology Initiative, Center for Materials Science and Engineering and Microsystems Technology Laboratories.

Han and his team, led by Jianping Fu, a graduate student in the Department of Mechanica
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Contact: Elizabeth Thomson
thomson@mit.edu
617-258-5402
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
13-Sep-2006


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