Student builds micro biosensor chip to move DNA molecules

A Johns Hopkins undergraduate has constructed a new type of microchip that can move and isolate DNA and protein molecules. He believes that by linking the chip with analysis equipment, a user could identify medical ailments, monitor a patient's health or detect viruses and other biohazards before they spread.

Eric Simone, a senior biomedical engineering major from the Cincinnati, Ohio, suburb of Anderson Township, fabricated and tested the chip in the lab of Jeff Tza-Huei Wang. Wang, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, had already produced a biosensor chip with electrodes embedded in a straight line. Under Wang's supervision, Simone, 21, devised a biosensor chip with an innovative circular electrode design, which performed more effectively in certain bio-analytical applications.

"This chip gives us a new tool to look into biological questions," said Wang, who also is a faculty member of the Whitaker Biomedical Engineering Institute at Johns Hopkins. "Eric can actually interact with and manipulate individual DNA molecules." Results from Simone's work were included a paper presented at the 17th IEEE International Conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems, held recently in The Netherlands. The undergraduate was listed as second author on the paper.

Simone joined Wang's lab team in January 2003 and used a Provost's Undergraduate Research Award grant from the university to spend much of last summer working on his project. "The chip has tiny wires, each about one-fifth the diameter of a human hair, embedded in a circular pattern," Simone said. "When it's connected to a power source, it allows us to generate an electric field that can transport molecules to a designated area for study."

The chips made by Wang and Simone take advantage of the natural negative charge possessed by DNA or a surface charge imposed on the molecules. A tiny drop of liquid containing the DNA is placed atop the chip. The electric

Contact: Phil Sneiderman
Johns Hopkins University

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