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Advanced molecular diagnostics

Molecular diagnostics entails the analysis of biomarkers to help diagnose, track the progression of, or determine risk factors and prognosis of disease. Biomarkers have been identified within the realm of genomics, epigenomics, transcriptomics, proetomics, metabolomics, and lipidomics:

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Molecularly imprinted polymers

Molecularly imprinted polymers (MIP) are relatively new diagnostic and therapeutic tool. MIPs  are highly specific three dimensional polymer imprints of molecules. The power of this tool may not be immediately obvious, but it is indeed a very useful technology. The power of MIPs lies in their specificity of binding to target molecules. Before the invention of MIPs, the only way to achieve this type of specificity was through antibody-antigen binding, surface receptor-ligand interactions, or protein affinities such as streptavidin and biotin. The problem with all of these systems is that they need to already exist. But what about a target that doesn't have a known molecule with a natural affinity? Herein enters molecularly imprinted polymers. These polymers are crosslinked and formed around the target molecule. Once the polymerization process is complete, the target molecule template is destroyed. What remains is a three-dimensional polymer with binding sites in the exact physical and chemical configuration as the target molecule. These binding sites are specific with regard to hydrophobicity, hydrophilicity, chemical groups, hydrogen bonding, and charge. When these MIPs are added to solution they will bind the target molecule with exceptional specificity.

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Direct and Indirect Elisa protocol

For the indirect and direct elisa, the antigen is applied to the surface of the elisa plate, but for a capture antibody is attached directly to the surface of the plate for sandwich elisa. Aside from this major difference the indirect and elisa protocol is very similar to the sandwich elisa protocol. There are plenty of blocking and washing steps to avoid non-specific binding, and there are incubation times to allow antibodies and antigens to bind properly. The indirect elisa requires two antibodies—a primary antibody to bind to the antigen, and a secondary antibody conjugated to an enzyme or fluorophore. The direct elisa uses a primary antibody that is directly conjugated to an enzyme or fluorophore. Either way, both of these methods—and indeed every elisa protocol, is a labeled assay. The antibody-antigen binding event cannot be quantified without the presence of the enzyme or fluorophore.

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Pathogen detection using magnetic nanoparticles or molecularly imprinted polymers

Faster and more efficient methods of pathogen detection are in high demand. The traditional methods involve collection of patient blood or swab samples for multi-day cultures. These methods are time-consuming and require full laboratories with skilled technicians and sterile equipment. As such, they are not ideal for low-income areas or for rapid pathogen detection. There is a need for rapid pathogen technology and point-of-care diagnostic tools. Ideally, these technologies will come with a built-in validation protocol. Magnetic nanoparticles and molecularly imprinted polymers are good candidates for improved pathogen detection systems. An additional benefit to using magnetic nanoparticles is that the separation process is easy to quantitatively measure with a validation protocol.

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Northern Blot Protocol

The northern blot is a technique used to study gene expression via mRNA transcripts. The northern blot was named after the southern blot, which was developed to study DNA. The two techniques are the same except that the northern blot is used to detect RNA while the southern blot is used to detect DNA. The northern blot protocol, in brief, involves gel electrophoresis to separate mRNA by size, a blotting step to transfer the separated mRNA to a membrane, and a probe hybridization step to identify the mRNA sequence of interest. Even with the advent of powerful RNA analysis techniques such as RT-qPCR and sequencing, the northern blot is still useful for comparing gene expression between samples. The northern blot protocol is relatively inexpensive, and makes it easy to visualize the results on a single membrane.  

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Immobilized enzymes

 Enzymes are the catalysts for biochemical reactions. As such, they speed up the transition from reactants to products without being consumed in the process. Multiple enzymes can be found in every cell, from bacteria up through to humans. We as humans have found ways to exploit enzymes to produce food products, fuel, pharmaceutical products, biotechnological tools, sensors, and much more. The potential uses for enzymes are seemingly limitless. The creation of solid support structures with immobilized enzymes has improved our ability to reuse enzymes in a controlled manner for a variety of applications. Immobilized enzymes can be reused multiple times before their efficacy is lost. This allows them to be an affordable part of industrial processes.

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Pharmaceutical validation

Pharmaceutical validation is important to the manufacturing process to ensure product consistency and safety. It involves regulation of all raw materials and production procedures as well as testing of final product. The general rule of thumb is to follow good manufacturing practice (GMP). This demands that all protocols be up to date and followed by trained personnel. It also requires that equipment be well-maintained and inspected. In the case of clean-room usage the clean room needs to be verified.

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Different types of Immunoassays

An immunoassay capitalizes on the specificity of the antibody-antigen binding found naturally in the immune system. The assay can be used to identify the presence of pathogens in a clinical sample, or it can be used to measure the amount of a target biomolecule. If the goal of the immunoassay is to isolate a specific molecule then a separation system is needed. When the isolation is achieved by magnetic separation using a magnetic particle it is called a magneto-actuated immunoassay. The most common particle used in these assays is made of a core of magnetite that is coated with a biologically compatible material, and chemically modified by the attachment of antibodies. However, before designing a magnetic particle for an immunoassay one must decide which type of immunoassay best fits the goals of the experiment.

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Superparamagnetic iron-oxide nanoparticles (SPION)-enhanced MRI imaging

Superparamagnetism is a type of magnetism that lies between that of a permanent magnet and a paramagnet. Recall that a permanent magnet is always magnetic at temperatures below its Curie Temperature even in zero applied magnetic field, whereas a paramagnet is not magnetic at zero applied field but can become magnetic when an external magnetic field is applied. The potential for a paramagnet to be induced to have magnetization is called magnetic susceptibility. A superparamagnet behaves similarly to a paramagnet. The “super” means that it has a higher magnetic susceptibility than a regular paramagnet when a magnetic field is applied. Superparamagnets are typically made of iron oxide or other ferrous materials, and they are extremely small, on the order of 10-100 nanometers.

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Genomic DNA isolation

In bacteria there are two main types of DNA—genomic and plasmid. Plasmid DNA is unique to bacteria. Eukaryotic cells don't typically have plasmid DNA unless it was put there by transfection for experimental purposes. The most important goal when isolating nucleic acids is to obtain the highest purity genetic material possible. When isolating genomic DNA it is important to remove plasmid DNA and RNA from the sample. Similarly, sometimes an experiment calls for the isolation of plasmid DNA, and the selective removal of genomic DNA is necessary. Also, some commercial RNA isolation kits include gDNA eliminator spin columns to remove genomic DNA from the isolate. 

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