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News

Carbon nanotubes yield a new class of biological sensors

University Of Illinois At Urbana-Champaign : 13 December, 2004  (New Product)
Nanotechnology researchers at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign have demonstrated a tiny, implantable detector that could one day allow diabetics to monitor their glucose levels continuously-without ever having to draw a blood sample.
Nanotechnology researchers at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign have demonstrated a tiny, implantable detector that could one day allow diabetics to monitor their glucose levels continuously-without ever having to draw a blood sample.

Principal investigator Michael Strano, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Illinois, explains that the new sensors are based on single-walled carbon nanotubes: cylindrical molecules whose sides are formed from a lattice of carbon atoms. The idea is to exploit the nanotubes' ability to fluoresce, or glow, when illuminated by certain wavelengths of infrared light - 'a region of the spectrum where human tissue and biological fluids are particularly transparent,' says Strano.

To make a sensor, Strano and his collaborators first coat the nanotubes with a 'molecular sheath': a one-molecule-thick layer of compounds that react strongly with a particular chemical-in this case, glucose. The mix of compounds is chosen so that the reaction also changes the nanotubes' fluorescent response. Then the researchers load the coated nanotubes into a needle-thin capillary tube that can safely be implanted into the body. The capillary keeps the nanotubes from directly touching living cells but still allows glucose to enter.

The Illinois researchers tested their glucose sensor by inserting it into a human tissue sample. Then they illuminated the sample with an infrared laser and verified that the strength of the fluorescence from the buried sensor was directly related to the glucose concentrations in the tissue.

The work, which is the first application of a whole new class of biological sensors, was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and announced on 12 December 2004 in the online edition of the journal Nature Materials.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.58 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Mitchell Waldrop
National Science Foundation
+1 703 292 7752
mwaldrop@nsf.gov
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