AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) is a research center at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. Researchers there have made a discovery that make great improvements in the detection and diagnosis of a wide range of diseases and conditions. They have improved the performance of biosensors through the use of graphene.
The team works with surface plasmon resonance (SPR) sensors which can be used to detect tiny amounts of specific biomarker materials. Basically, the system projects polarized light on a sample and measures how much the reflection angle is affected by the material. This approach can be used to identify specific materials without the need to tag the molecules first with indicator materials. It can be especially useful in lab-on-a-chip applications where tiny samples can be analyzed, often for many different materials at the same time.
Graphene is the new wonder material: a single-atom-thick sheet of carbon. It is a transparent conductor for electricity, is flexible, and has amazing strength. In this case, the AMBER researchers have found a way to use it for SPR sensors that doubles their sensitivity for target materials. They created a sensor specifically for cholera toxin, and were able to identify samples containing the material in just minutes, compared with traditional detection methods that could take hours or even days. The same approach could be adopted to detect other biomarkers for diseases such as cancer. It could lead to low-cost, rapid, and highly-accurate sensors for a variety of biomarkers.