Nanochip invention by UTSA professors will accelerate research results

nanochip

High-throughput nanochip

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(Dec. 1, 2010)--UTSA professors Anand Ramasubramanian in the College of Engineering Department of Biomedical Engineering and Jose Lopez-Ribot in the College of Sciences Department of Biology and South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (STCEID) have developed a prototype nanochip that can accelerate testing in drug delivery and diagnostics.

The chip uses high-throughput screening, which is technology that allows researchers to test simultaneously hundreds of thousands of small molecules for specific characteristics.

"This project started when Dr. Lopez-Ribot and I met at an interdisciplinary seminar held at UTSA," said Ramasubramanian. "We talked about his Candida albicans research, and he said that the current industry standard is 96 well plates. We thought there had to be a better way. There had to be a way to leverage today's technology to achieve faster testing."

Following the seminar, the researchers began talking about applying their ideas in practice. Shortly thereafter, with assistance from Anand Srinivasan, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, and Priya Uppuluri, a post-doctoral researcher in biology, they began developing a high-throughput nanochip to screen potential antifungal drug candidates for Candida albicans. Often fatal to individuals with weakened immune systems, this fungal organism is the third most common hospital-derived infection in the United States.

With grants from the UTSA Office for Research Commercialization and Innovation Proof of Concept fund and the University of Texas Health Science Center's Institute for the Integration of Medicine and Science, and capital equipment support from the STCEID, the researchers developed a nanochip comprised of 768 equivalent and spatially distinct Candida albicans nano-biofilms on a single microscope glass slide.

The chip already has shown to be effective in research, offering advantages including:

  • Accelerated research results
  • Less chemical reagent use and increased savings, since experiments are conducted on the nanoscale
  • The opportunity to conduct tens of thousands of tests at once because the process to create high-throughput slides is automated and multiple slides can be printed at once
  • Durability, since slides do not dry out easily and can be washed multiple times
  • Productivity and convenience for researchers who no longer have to wait for results from repeated testing periods

Now that a prototype has been created, Ramasubramanian and Lopez-Ribot are testing large libraries of compounds for potential anti-fungal activity. Ramasubramanian recently received funds from the Semp Russ Foundation of the San Antonio Area Foundation and from the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute to develop separate high-throughput chips to diagnose chlamydial infection and to screen potential breast cancer drug candidates.

The project will be in collaboration with researchers from UTSA's STCEID and the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. Shankar Evani, a research fellow in Ramasubramanian's laboratory will assist in the effort. Lopez-Ribot is the recipient of grants from the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to study C. albicans biofilms and the pathogenesis of candidiasis.

With the long-term view of successful technology commercialization, the UTSA Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship (CITE) teams researchers with graduate students in the UTSA Management of Technology program to create a strategic technology business plan that assesses the market potential and outlines the technology roadmap necessary to bridge the gap between research development and new technology venture.

"These are the kind of synergies we can create at UTSA, bringing together phenomenal research innovation with targeted class projects that both improve the educational model for our students and help propel technology from our laboratories into the market," said Cory Hallam, CITE founding director.