skip to primary navigationskip to content
 

Fishing the biomolecules

Can we diagnose the deadly diseases years before they occur?

Imagine you are fishing in a lake with only one fish… You would have to be very very lucky to be at the right place at the right time to catch it! Early stage disease diagnostics is a similar game: one has to catch a biomarker – a protein molecule floating inside our bodies that is a signature of a certain disease.

Finding the correct biomarkers helps us diagnose a disease and also which stage it is at. Diagnosing diseases at an early stage means that actions could be taken to prevent the disease becoming more severe. The challenge with early stage diagnosis is that the biomarker concentration in the body can be very low at early stages – similar to having one fish in a lake.

To complicate things further, these biomarkers are extremely small and it is hard to tell one type of biomarker from another by looking at them. However, we can weigh the biomarkers with extremely sensitive scales – cantilevers – weighing masses down to fractions of a picogram (trillion times lighter than a spoon of sugar!). Their working principle is very similar to an oscillating mass attached to a spring. By following the changes in the resonant frequency of the cantilever, we can estimate what is the amount of a biomarker of interest adhered to the sensor and understand whether it is within the norms of a healthy person.

In our laboratory, instead of making the cantilever surface attractive to a specific biomarker and ‘fishing’ it directly from water, we keep drying tiny amounts of solution until we catch the molecules we are looking for and measure their total dry mass.

This technique – dry mass sensing – is a new simple way to detect proteins and will find many applications in diagnostics and general protein science.

Tadas Kartanas

PhD Student Cohort 2014

Department of Chemistry, Knowles Lab

Image is a combination of two images taken from:

https://www.faithstrongtoday.com/moirabrown/hugs-from-heaven-the-fisher-girl

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Protein_TNKS2_PDB_3KR7.png

RSS Feed Latest news

Diversity Champ Carmen wins IoP Medal and Prize

Jul 11, 2018

Congratulations Carmen Palacios Berraquero (c2013) for winning the 2018 Jocelyn Bell Burnell Medal and Prize – an IoP award for outstanding early career female physicists

NanoVignettes - nanoscience through the eyes of artists

Jun 19, 2018

Check out these amazing short films about our students' research, made in collaboration with artists at different career stages

Call for Mini Project proposals

Jun 10, 2018

The NanoDTC invites Mini Project proposals from Cambridge Academics for its incoming c2018 cohort. Submission deadline is 12th Oct 2018.

NanoDTC Students included in Forbes 30 under 30

Jan 30, 2018

Jean de la Verpilliere and Alex Groombridge have been listed in the Forbes 30 under 30 in Europe.