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Nano probe may open new window into cell behavior

Atlanta (July 24, 2006) -- To create drugs capable of targeting some of the most devastating human diseases, scientists must first decode exactly how a cell or a group of cells communicates with other cells and reacts to a broad spectrum of complex biomolecules surrounding it.

But even the most sophisticated tools currently used for studying cell communications suffer from significant deficiencies. Typically, these tools can detect only a narrowly selected group of small molecules or, for a more sophisticated analysis, the cells must be destroyed for sample preparation. This process makes it very difficult to observe complex cellular interactions just as they would occur in their natural habitat -- the human body.

Georgia Tech researchers have created a nanoscale probe, the Scanning Mass Spectrometry (SMS) probe, that can capture both the biochemical makeup and topography of complex biological objects in their normal environment -- opening the door for discovery of new biomarkers and improved gene studies, leading to better disease diagnosis and drug design on the cellular level. The research was presented in the July issue of IEE Electronics Letters.

The new instrument, a potentially very valuable tool for the emerging science of systems biology, may help researchers better understand cellular interactions at the most fundamental level, including cell signaling, as well as identifying protein expression and response to the external stimuli (e.g., exposure to drugs or changes in the environment) from the organ scale down to tissue and even the single cell level.

"At its core, disease is a disruption of normal cell signaling," said Dr. Andrei Fedorov, a professor in Georgia Tech's Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and lead researcher on the project. "So, if one understands the network and all signals on the most fundamental level, one would be able to control and correct them if needed. The SMS probe can help map al
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Contact: Megan McRainey
megan.mcrainey@icpa.gatech.edu
404-894-6016
Georgia Institute of Technology
24-Jul-2006


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