A Faster Way to Diagnose TB

Institute researchers are not actually studying the disease itself, but they are working to develop a new kind of TB detection device, a tester that can be used, particularly in developing countries, to quickly and easily identify TB.

The project is a new direction for the Institute, which is renowned around the world as a resource for the microelectronics industry, but it is also a natural application for the Institute’s technological savvy and facilities.

With facilities valued at more than $100 million, the Institute boasts the only pilot prototyping facility at any university in the world for the current standard in computer chip design, the 200-millimeter, or 8-inch, wafer. The Institute currently has more than 100 U.S. and world wide corporate partners who either use the facilities or work with Institute scientists to test approaches in advanced materials processing.

"The same equipment, expertise and manufacturing techniques used to deposit and etch layers on a silicon substrate to make a computer chip can be applied to a wide range of other applications ranging from flat-panel displays to fuel cells, nanostructures, optical devices, new communications devices and bio-sensors," says Institute Director of Technology James Castracane. "And that is precisely what we are doing."

James Castracane James Castracane is working with
graduate student Oliver Tang,
and InterScience researcher
Michelle Simkulet to develop
a new kind of TB detection device.

The TB tester project, funded by a $750,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to InterScience, Inc. of Troy, N.Y. as the prime contractor, is a collaborative effort by InterScience, UAlbany, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (AECOM) of Yeshiva University and SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Both the TB project and another collaborative project which aims to develop a "laboratory on a chip" reflect the Institute’s growing strength in the exciting new field of "BioMEMS."

MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems) technology is the marriage between traditional microelectronics and mechanical systems to realize a physical device such as the sensor used in air bag deployment. BioMEMS technology applies microdevices to biological and medical problems, and, by its very nature, requires scientific teams with expertise across a wide range of fields.

"Our BioMEMS projects are excellent demonstrations of the emerging role of nanoelectronics as an enabler of biotechnology, telecommunications, energy and environmental technologies. The micro- and nano-system expertise at the Institute, under the leadership of Jim Castracane, is world class," says Institute Executive Director Alain Kaloyeros.

The TB tester is an out growth of fundamental bio chemical research begun by scientists from Albert Einstein College to develop faster and better diagnoses of TB infection.

Using DNA recombination techniques, AECOM scientists have developed luciferase reporter mycobacteriophages (LRM), as says that emit light when they interact with live TB bacteria in a sample of saliva. LRM, also known more simply as reporter phages, can also identify drug-resistant strains of TB. In less than a day, the LRM technique can provide a TB diagnosis, a major improvement over traditional methods requiring a minimum of a week.

Initially, the effectiveness of the LRM technique was demonstrated by exposing film in a black box containing an array of cultures that had been treated with different drugs. But before the technique can be widely applied, scientists must develop a versatile luminescence detection tool, and that is the focus of this NIH-funded research coordinated by InterScience Inc., a technology development company, in collaboration with Institute scientists.

"Our goal is to make a device that uses digital imaging technology to rapidly assess luminescence, and that works both for clinical applications and in a laboratory research environment," says InterScience researcher Michelle Simkulet, principal investigator of the project. "This spring we plan to test a prototype in a clinical setting at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center."

Prototype microfluidic devices
Prototype microfluidic devices under development for BioMEMS projects at the UAlbany Institute for Materials

InterScience is developing the imaging system, the intelligent computer algorithm, and the overall integration of the TB detection system while UAlbany’s Institute for Materials develops a disposable-type testing cartridge that allows for rapid preparation of a sample for testing in the system.

"The idea is that a sputum sample would be placed in the main mixing chamber of the cartridge, which would already contain premixed reagents and media that would be released into the main mixing chamber upon placement into the measurement system," says Castracane.

Another dramatically new kind of tool is the goal of the BioMEMs project funded by $900,000 through the "XYZ on a Chip" program of the National Science Foundation.

In this project, the Institute is collaborating with the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Louisville to develop a "laboratory on a microchip" for measuring how cells respond to toxins, drugs and other stimuli.

"With our Institute’s fabrication capabilities, we can make big arrays—hundreds or thousands of micro- or nano-wells into which we put single cells and then do the measurements," says Castracane. "In fact, the first well arrays have been fabricated and are currently under test with our partners at the University of Missouri-Columbia."

"When fully developed, our microchip-based approach will make possible experiments that would be unthinkable in the past, such as massive screening of thousands of possible drugs that target ion channels. The analogy of the increase in efficiency that occurred when hand-assembled electronic circuits were replaced by silicon integrated circuits is appropriate," says Castracane.

Beyond that, all the cross-disciplinary work done to develop this laboratory on a chip will advance the technology for such other possible BioMEMS devices as cell-based bio sensors that can warn against contamination of water and food supplies by toxins, says Castracane.

Institute Partnerships
Fuel Economic Growth

From left:  Governor George Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver,
Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and UAlbany President Karen Hitchcock with
a 300-millimeter wafer at the news conference announcing state support for an expansion of CESTM.

Through innovative partnerships, UAlbany’s Institute for Materials is building the research infrastructure and knowledge base needed to tackle today’s high-tech challenges and drive economic growth.

The Institute, with $20 million in annual support from governmental and corporate partners, manages six interdisciplinary research centers in the fields of nanotechnology, nanoelectronics and advanced materials.

One of those centers is Focus Center-New York, a major research initiative headquartered at the University since 1998. Early in 2001, the center won $45 million in new public and private funding to support the development of the next generations of ultra-high-performance computer chips. New York State is contributing $5 million a year to that one center alone.

The institute’s partners are also investing in its future in other ways. In 2000, New York Governor George Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and other state leaders came to campus to announce state support for a wing at the Center for Environmental Sciences and Technology Management (CESTM), where the Institute is headquartered. The expansion will house the academic world’s first 300-millimeter wafer prototyping and work force training facility. Construction was slated to begin in 2001.

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