Biochips

Biological processes (e.g., cell differentiation, cell division, phagocytosis [engulfing foreign particles] and necrosis [cell death]) are related to movement of cellular components. New methods are being developed to study molecular behavior in important cell processes. Molecular labeling by chemical or DNA methods allows precise tracking of individual molecules using fluorescence microscopy.

The combination of nanotechnology, biology, photonics, and advanced materials allows detection and manipulation of atoms and molecules using nanodevices with a wide variety of medical uses at the cellular level. The fact that the biosensors are nanosized makes measurements in the smallest places (e.g., inside a cell) possible. The development of bionanosensors and in situ intracellular measurements of single cells using antibody-based nanoprobes is a big advance.

Using bionanosensors, scientists can test individual molecules and molecular signaling activities in specific cellular locations. Placing a bionanosensor into a cell doesn't seem to bother the cell membrane or alter a cell's normal functioning. This is great news since physicians have wanted to be a "fly on the wall" of cellular processes for years. The ability to monitor in vivo processes within living cells would be a huge improvement to their understanding of cellular functions. Just this nanotechnology-enabled improvement alone would transform cell biology.

Biosensors using DNA probes (biochips) are a hot new field. As discussed in Chapter 5, protein recognition is brought about through the fine-tuned linking of a nucleic acid strand with a complementary protein sequence. DNA biosensors are useful in areas where nucleic acid identification is involved. These types of sensors could be used to diagnose genetic susceptibility to inherited diseases like hemophilia.

Glucose sensors are probably the most well known biosensors on the market today, since thousands of people with diabetes must be able to monitor their glucose levels throughout the day. Glucose can be tested by using the enzyme glucose oxidase, which combines glucose and oxygen to form gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. The sensor detects the amount of hydrogen peroxide formed and current changes that are measured by an electrode.

Bionanosensors allow researchers to make use of and test for biomolecules. They are reaching a point where bionanosensors and nanomedicine will augment biology. Clinicians want to create nanomachines that can carry out and analyze cellular processes normally done by biomolecules or entire groups of cells. Some people call this cellular engineering; others call it healthcare of the future.

Electronics innovations using nanotechnology that make smaller, faster, more accurate, and cheaper products are just around the corner (and some are already here). Every industry in our highly computerized society will reap the benefits offered by this amazing field.

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