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You are here: MEDICA Portal. Part IV: Substances. Blood.

Material Rush Hits Medicine (Part 3)

Material Rush Hits Medicine (Part 3)

Part 3: Transistor at Nanolevel

Also in terms of biosensors research is taking a close look at the nano world. „We need to do that since our current sensors are not sensitive enough“, Janos Vörös explains, professor at the Institute for Biomedical Technology at in Zurich. He hopes that one day it will be possible to diagnose cancer with just a single drop of blood earlier than is being done with CT and MRI at the moment.

That is a nice concept with just one problem: „Cancer markers are not very abundant. They are present in such low concentrations that we need a new technology in order to measure them“, Vörös says. This is when nanowires get into action – tiny wires that are being home in experimental laboratories only. They do not occur in nature, they need to be produced artificially from metall and are a few thousand times thinner than a single hair. They have a very special property though: they work like a transistor that amplifies electrical signals.

Photo: Epitaxial nanowire grown from goldparticle
Nanowires: They sense lectrical charges on the molecular level
© Opensource Handbook of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology

Since nanowires are so ectremely thin anything passing by touches upon their surface“, Vörös explains. The energy that arises when an antibody or some other receptor molecule bind to viruses, bacteria or cancer markers is being transformed into digital or electrical signals. This can all take place on a small chip. „In the end, we are trying to develop a portable and handy device that measures these electrical signals“, the researcher says. That would be more convenient and cheaper than having to handle large devices able to read out fluorescent signals on the search for cancer markers.

However, the researchers at ETH thin further: They have ideas such as using the nanowires as implantable sensors for sensing and transmitting telemedical data about the patient's health status one day. Also stents that support coronary blood vessels from the inside could be monitored by nanowires just by integrating the wire that measures the electrical properties that occur when the vessel expands. And since energy as we all know hides in all areas of our bodies nanowires may possibly have a lot of measuring to do in the future.

Wiebke Heiss

- Part 1: Material Rush Hits Medicine
- Part 2. Biosilicates from the Abyss
- Part 3: Transistor at Nanolevel


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