New medications, cancer diagnosis goals of UH engineers with $1M in grants

HOUSTON, Feb. 8, 2007 Identifying new medications and providing foolproof cancer diagnosis are two benefits anticipated from research by a team of engineering professors at the University of Houston.

A tabletop system capable of screening tens of thousands of drug candidates in an hour and a tool that can provide a reliable cancer diagnosis with minuscule quantities of tissue obtained through non-invasive means are just two possible outcomes of research led by Dmitri Litvinov, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and of chemical and biomolecular engineering in the Cullen College of Engineering at UH. Along with his co-investigators Richard Willson, professor of chemical engineering and biochemical and biophysical sciences, and John Wolfe, professor of electrical and computer engineering, Litvinov and his team received more than $1 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Alliance for NanoHealth.

Together, they are developing versatile technology that will enable such breakthroughs as rapid evaluation of the effectiveness of potential antiviral drugs by their ability to block a virus bond with a cell receptor, as well as high-precision detection of cancer biomarkers using molecular binding as a means for biorecognition. While it is common to utilize these natural molecular binding processes to identify biological agents, Litvinovs research distinguishes itself by how these processes are detected.

Usually scientists attach tags, also referred to as labels, to biomolecules (proteins, DNAs or RNAs) that allow these biomolecules to be tracked. This tracking tells researchers the location of the biomolecules and whether the biomolecules have bonded with a specific substrate, such as a healthy cell.

Common tags used by researchers are fluorescent beads that are detectable by their coloring, but many of the tags currently used in research are much larger than the biomolecule

Contact: Lisa Merkl
University of Houston

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