Nanoparticle-based technologies for point-of-care diagnostics and biological research
One of the many challenges that Canada faces is the quality and accessibility of health care in rural and remote areas, particularly those in northern British Columbia and many other parts of Canada. There is a shortage of physicians in remote communities, and personal and financial burdens are associated with patient travel that arises from the poor availability of many diagnostic tests and treatment options. While the BC Government has incentivized practicing medicine in northern communities, there is an accompanying need for new “point-of-care” diagnostic technologies that are both practical and affordable to deploy in these lower resource settings.
The proposed research will help address this need by developing new biomedical diagnostic technologies that are capable of analyzing molecular biomarkers in bodily fluids such as blood, serum, and urine, either directly or with minimal sample preparation, while still being portable, low-power, low-cost, and requiring only a connection to a laptop computer.
This technology will be realized by taking advantage of the special optical properties of certain types of nanoparticle materials, and by combining those properties with consumer electronic components. The useful optical properties of these materials only arise when shrunk to sizes about 10 000-times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. These materials can be designed to “light up” in the presence of specific molecules (e.g., enzymes and antigens) that are useful indicators for health and disease, and smartphones and similar devices can be used for measurement of those signals. This proposed research is part of a broader, synergistic program of research aimed at developing biomedical tools and technologies around the unique physical and optical properties of nanoparticles. Related research problems being investigated include the design, synthesis, and characterization of nanoparticle probes for measuring complex enzyme activity and gene expression associated with cells.
The long-term goals of this research program are the translation of new point-of-care diagnostic technologies to clinical settings, and to provide new research tools that help elucidate fundamental biology related to disease pathology.