Breath analysis has been recognized as an increasingly accurate diagnostic method to link specific gaseous components in human breath to medical conditions and exposure to chemical compounds. Sampling breath is also much less invasive than testing blood, can be done very quickly, and creates as good as no biohazard waste. A recent review article in Environmental Science and Technology focuses on breath analysis as a tool for assessing environmental exposure and provides a good overview of the current state of diagnostic tools, leading studies in this field, and emerging technologies for hand-held breath analyzers. After describing the basics of breath analysis as a diagnostic tool, the authors discuss emerging chemical sensor technology ('electronic noses'), in particular two nanotechnology-based approaches, that are suitable to identify target analytes in breath.
Every aspect of cellular activities, including cell proliferation, differentiation, metabolism and apoptosis, can be regulated by a class of tiny but very important nucleic acids fragments called microRNAs (miRNAs). They bind to specific messenger RNAs and cause messenger RNA degradation or inhibit translation, thereby regulate gene expression at the post-translational level. In cancer cells, the homeostasis of these normal biological processes is disrupted, partially by dysregulated miRNAs, therefore the level of microRNAs is an indicator to the disease development, and miRNAs in cancer tissues or biofluids can be utilized as a diagnostic biomarker for cancer detection. Now, researchers report a miRNAs-based discovery that could provide a much earlier warning signal for lung cancer.
Most molecular probes used in biomedical research require dyes or fluorescence in order to obtain meaningful signals. These probes usually are quite limited with regard to the complexity of what they can image - be it the measurable concentration range or the number of molecules that can be simultaneously detected. This is an issue that is particularly relevant when it comes to track the simultaneous multiple molecular transformations that dictate complicated diseases like cancer. Scientists now have come up with an intriguing new class of molecular probes to solve this problem. They took an existing spectroscopic technique - surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) - and developed a unique class of nanoparticle labels that provide for different responses when excited by laser light.
Previously, synthetic molecular machines have been used to perform mechanical tasks collectively, such as move liquid droplets uphill against the force of gravity, rotate microscale objects using liquid crystals doped with synthetic motor-molecules, and bend cantilevers. However, all these tasks are achieved by the collective action of billions and billions of molecular machines. Observing the mechanical behavior of an individual molecule is much more difficult. Synthetic molecular machines are often ten times smaller in each dimension than motor proteins and previously no one has managed to use single molecule techniques to look at how the components move in synthetic molecular machines. By using very sensitive atomic force microscopy experiments, researchers now were able to address the movement of the ring in individual rotaxane molecules.
Integrating biological molecules or even complex molecular machines with man-made nanoelectronic devices is one of the ultimate goals of bionanotechnology. Already there is a growing community of researchers interested in this area of bio/nano integration where biological components are interfaced with inorganic nanomaterials to create new devices and systems that combine the desirable properties of each system. One particular nanomaterial used in this kind of research are carbon nanotubes (CNTs). Scientists now report the integration of a CNT transistor with olfactory receptor proteins. The ultimate goal of this type of research is to transfer the sensing properties of biological molecular systems to artificial electronic devices.
Monitoring cell functions and cell-to-cell communication has enormous implications for cell biology, regenerative medicine and tracking the fate of transplanted cells in cell therapy. Unfortunately, probing what cells 'see' and how they respond in real time to surrounding signals (i.e. cytokines) has been a major challenge. Now, a simple cell-surface sensor platform that permits signalling to be monitored within the cellular environment, in real time, in vitro and most likely also in vivo, can potentially address this problem. Researchers have developed a platform technology where cell-surface immobilized nanosensors allow them to monitor the cellular nano environment and cell-cell communication in real-time, at a single cell level and with potential unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution.
Paper has emerged as a focus area for researchers developing innovative techniques for printed basic electronics components. Another area where paper could lead to low-cost innovative devices and applications is lab-on-a-chip technology. Currently, these microfluidic devices are fairly expensive due to their lithography-based fabrication process with channels patterned in glass or plastic and tiny pumps and valves directing the flow of fluids. Inexpensive paper-based sensing kits already play an important role in ready-to-use diagnostics. Researchers have even managed to create inexpensive microfluidic platforms on hydrophobic paper with laser treatments. In a further advance, scientists have now fabricated a paper-based metamaterial device which can be potentially utilized for quantitative analysis in biochemical sensing applications.
Fabrication of a single nanodevice is no longer the state of the art in nanotechnology. The leading edge - and also currently the most challenging area in nanotechnology - is research that leads to a self-powered nanoscale system that is driven by the energy harvested from its environment and that can perform its work independently and sustainable. This is a key step toward self-powered nanotechnology, which is vitally important for medical science, environmental monitoring, defence technology and even personal electronics. A research team has now provided the first demonstration that a nanogenerator can be strong enough to power a device with the capability of sensing, data processing and wireless data transmission. This is a powerful demonstration of the self-powered nanosystem and its potential applications.