14 April 2010

Photonics4life presents the mini-laboratory for the field

The detection of biological matter such as pathogens still requires large and specialized laboratories. Waiting for analysis of a sample wastes precious time during which the germ may have spawned or even caused damage. Researchers from the EU network photonics4life have recently developed a biochip the size of a 1-cent which allows rapid and reliable DNA-detection within minutes on site.

The group of Prof. J├╝rgen Popp from the Institute of Photonic Technology in Jena printed so-called receptor molecules onto the capillary columns of a chip with an inkjet printer. After being liquefied, the sample is rinsed through the fine channels of the chip by a tiny pump. If the substance being searched for is present, the capture molecules hold onto them. During this process, silver is deposited, which makes the gap electrically conductive. Thus, the researchers can detect the desired substance and its concentration based on a simple electrical resistance measurement.

"As our pocket laboratory can simultaneously screen for up to 40 different biomolecules such as DNA or proteins, completely new opportunities arise for biological diagnostics," says Professor Popp. So far his group has optimized the chip to detect plant pathogens, but promising applications also include the DNA testing of suspects, sampling groundwater, or the testing of emergency patients for ingested drugs. The researchers will show their Biochip next week to the public at the Photonics Europe in Brussels, one of the largest scientific conferences for innovations in the field of lasers and optics. The leading theme of the conference this year is Biophotonics - a discipline where advances in optical technologies are used to detect disease earlier, to understand its causes and to provide a targeted treatment.

With 134 contributions the most scientific papers presented at Photonics Europe are coming from this field. Two of the leading lights of this young field will open the conference: award-winner Prof. Stefan Hell will talk about the latest generation of microscopes that provide high-resolution films from living cells and Prof. Kishan Dholakia will give an overview of using light to manipulate living cells and inject substances directly into them. Besides the conference, there are many other events dedicated to Biophotonics, such as meetings of the EU Network for Biophotonics photonics4life and the worldwide organization Biophotonics4Life.

Photonics4Life is the European Network of Excellence for Biophotonics. 13 top-of-the-line research institutes have joined forces to establish a European platform on Biophotonics for both academia and industry. They aim to provide a coherent and interdisciplinary framework for research in this fragmented field. A further major goal is to initiate a paradigm shift in research by putting the emphasis on the needs of biologists, physicians and patients and to strengthen local, national, and European research and communication activities between technical developers and medical users. Photonics4Life is funded by the European Commission within the 7th Framework Programme.

Round Robin Experiment

Raman spectroscopy has already proved its effectiveness in many cases for medical diagnostics such as for cancer, cardiovascular diseases and infections. However, there are no standards in the different working groups, e.g. for sample preparation, implementation of the Raman experiments, spectra pre-treatment, data evaluation, etc.In a round robin experiment, the required groundwork will take place in order to define standardised Raman measurement methods, which will be fundamental for establishing Raman spectroscopy for clinical diagnostic procedures.

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