By simultaneously scanning for thousands of genes or proteins in a biological sample, doctors could diagnose many diseases in a single step. But today’s DNA or protein microarrays are too expensive for widespread clinical use, in part because their manufacture is a complex, multistep process.
A potentially cheaper tool for detecting telltale DNA and proteins appears on this page: capsule-shaped polymer particles, each 180 micrometers long. Each particle can be loaded with a specific biomolecule so that one half of the particle fluoresces when it detects a disease target. Imprinted with bar-code-like patterns of holes, the particles can be read optically; they could serve as detectors for more than a million distinct biological targets. Technicians with the right optical equipment could, in theory, mix the particles with a sample and read off the results.
Unlike microarrays, the particles can be manufactured using a single, integrated process, which was developed by MIT chemical engineer Patrick Doyle, doctoral student Daniel Pregibon, and colleagues at MIT and Harvard Medical School. The process begins with two adjacent 100-micrometer-wide streams of fluid. One of the streams contains biomolecules that will attach to disease targets. A pulse of ultraviolet light passes through a stencil and strikes the streams, causing precursors of polyethylene glycol in both to solidify into a single particle. The stencil gives one half of each particle an identifying pattern of holes.
Jay Groves, a chemist at the University of California, Berkeley, calls the synthesis a “clever” step toward low-cost diagnostics. One remaining challenge is to develop a more practical system for reading the particles: Doyle and colleagues use a bulky, impractical fluorescence microscope.
Meta has built a massive new language AI—and it’s giving it away for free
Facebook’s parent company is inviting researchers to pore over and pick apart the flaws in its version of GPT-3
The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus
The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.
Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging
The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.
Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI
One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.