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Future Tense

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, July 14, 2010
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Technology: CometChip

Developer: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Researchers: Bevin Engelward, MIT associate professor of biological engineering, and Sangeeta Bhatia, professor in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Purpose: To enable rapid DNA damage analysis, a revamped version of the labor-intensive comet assay lab test that's been used for the past 30 years. Could help epidemiologists to detect environmental exposures long before they cause cancer, clinicians to provide better cancer treatment, and researchers to identify new drugs and screen hazardous drugs.

How it works: Using a micro-patterning technique developed by Wood and Bhatia, the research team imprinted a grid of tiny wells the size of a single cell on a DNA electrophoresis gel. Cells in the array can be individually "addressed," which allows fully automated readout and replaces the tedious manual analysis.

Potential improvement: This setup allows dozens of experimental conditions to be tested on just one slide, and it enables slides to be automatically analyzed using custom-designed imaging software.

What's next: The researchers are using knockout cell lines to determine which genetic deficiencies are detectable with their platform and to better understand the molecular mechanisms of DNA repair. They are also optimizing their system for human samples to study the DNA-damaging effects of the environment. It is not yet commercially available, although the technology was designed not only to enable high throughput screening, but also to be compatible with basic laboratory equipment so that eventually virtually any laboratory can use it.

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