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Research / Discovery

Charge-ing forward with research funding

January 28, 2014
By Kortny Rolston

Researchers in the School of Biomedical Engineering are raising money through Charge, CSU's crowdfunding platform, to support the development of a biosensor chip that detects the chemical changes that cause cells to malfunction or become cancerous.

Researchers are hoping to raise $50,000 to continue the biosensor project. Inside a Colorado State University biomedical engineering laboratory sits a tiny silicon chip.

It is the latest prototype of a biosensor device that could one day be implanted in the human body to detect the chemical changes that cause cells to malfunction or become cancerous. 

CSU researchers have spent the past four years designing the 2-centimeter-by-2-centimeter chip, which is packed with 8,192 electrodes each one-fiftieth the size of a human hair.

Initial results are promising. The chip has successfully detected low levels of norepinephrine and nitric oxide – two key chemicals produced by cells in the body.

To enter the next phase of testing, the team is searching for funds.

The National Science Foundation grant that supported the development of the first two prototypes of the biosensor device is ending.View larger >>>

“We need more data to obtain funding from a private company or another federal agency,” said Stuart Tobet, director of CSU’s School of Biomedical Engineering and a researcher on the project. “We are trying to find a bridge to jump a gap in funding.”

The School of Biomedical Engineering has launched a campaign through Charge, the University's crowdfunding platform, to raise $50,000 to continue the research project. The money would pay for equipment and graduate students.

Why a bio-sensor chip?

Cells in the human body communicate with one another by sending and receiving a barrage of chemical signals. Cells interpret these messages and “decide” to grow, split, move or even die.

These chemical signals play a key role in the development and spread of disease.

Cells can become cancerous when they receive signals that cause them to start growing uncontrollably. The same problem can occur when a mutation ruins a cell’s normal ability to heed signals that keep growth under control.

CSU researchers believe the biosensor chip can help scientists decipher those chemical signals and understand how cells respond.

“If we can identify what is normal physiology and what is abnormal, we can detect diseases and other health problems much, much earlier,” said Tom Chen, an electrical and computer engineering professor and member of CSU’s School of Biomedical Engineering. 

Other CSU team members include Melissa Reynolds, assistant professor of chemistry and biomedical engineering, and Chuck Henry, chemistry and biomedical engineering professor.

Avago Technologies, an industrial partner, provided the manufactured chips.

How does the device work?The money raised through crowdfunding would pay for equipment and graduate students to work on the project.

Researchers have long used powerful microscopes to study cells and their movements. But they haven’t been able to “see” the chemical signals cells are using to communicate.

That’s where the bio-sensor comes in. Its electrodes and the associated electronics are designed to detect those chemicals and image them. When live tissue is overlaid on the sensor and then placed under certain microscopes, researchers can “see” the chemical signals and at the same time watch how cells respond.

Tobet equates the sensor to using infrared goggles. But instead of heat, it identifies chemicals.

“This provides us with a new view of cells and how they communicate,” he said. “We haven’t been able to see cell movement and chemicals together before.”