Wouldn't it become a lot easier to detect cancer if something could 'sniff' it out? Now, Israel's Tel Aviv University (TAU) researchers have developed a device which can be used to detect even microscopic signs of cancer, bombs and impure water. The instrument has been dubbed a 'bionic nose'.
Both cancer cells and the chemicals used to make bombs can foil detection because they appear in trace amounts too small for conventional detection techniques.
AdvertisementBut now, scientists at Tel Aviv University have engineered a molecule that can magnify weak traces of "hidden" molecules into something we can detect and see.
Using molecular techniques in nanotechnology, Professor Doron Shabat of TAU's Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Chemistry has engineered new molecules that have the power to identify targets - such as biomarkers in cancer, materials in explosives, or pollutants in water - even when present in miniscule amounts.
Professor Shabat's invention, like a bionic nose, can "sniff out" these trace molecules and amplify them tenfold, making them noticeable for doctors and crimefighters.
Shabat, a bioorganic chemist, plans to develop the technology so that it amplifies signals millions and billions times stronger than they are.
"We are developing a molecular system that amplifies certain events," said Shabat. "That way, we'll be able to respond faster to medical, security and environmental threats. In effect, our device can amplify just about any chemical system that has a certain kind of reactivity," he added.
According to Shabat, "It has the potential to help doctors diagnose diseases - those with biomarkers, and enzymatic activities that are compatible with our molecular probe."
"The long list includes a few kinds of cancer, as well, including prostate cancer. But, it also has applications for testing for impurities in water. It has both biological and non-biological applications," he added.
Professor Shabat's invention is a molecular sensor that acts in a solution.
A chemist would add trace amounts of the test material from the field - a spoonful of contaminated drinking water, for example - into the solution and would simply see if the color of the solution changes.
If so, the targeted material - the cancer, or explosive, or pollutant - is present.
The prototype is ready, and Shabat plans to use it to "amplify" problems around the world to improve healthcare, safety, and security.