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Improved sensor can detect pathogens in DNA


Drexel University researchers are on the verge of completing sensor technology that is capable of measuring samples at the cellular level. The new technology uses a vibrating cantilever sensor that is able to find trace amounts of DNA in liquid samples. It is primarily designed to help doctors and other health care professionals detect harmful toxins, bacteria and even cancer cells inside liquid samples such as urine or blood.

Dr. Raj Mutharasan, lead researcher on the project and professor in the engineering department at the university, says that the use of a lead zirconate titanate (PZT) in the cantilever sensor makes it possible to create a more sensitive and time efficient test for DNA. The high sensitivity in the technology allows even for the quick detection of pathogens such as bacteria and potential cancer cells.

He said that the technology is almost similar to catching criminals through their fingerprints instead of using a mug shot. And since it is more sensitive and precise, the technology can essentially detect pathogens of any size, within a smaller sample and complete the entire process in a shorter amount of time. In the field of medicine, faster diagnosis means that a treatment method can be quickly recommended.

Cantilever sensor technology is not a new discovery and in fact, has been around for more than decade. This technology has been used in detecting small, trace amounts of substances using a “springboard” type of method. The vibration of the cantilever is greatly reduced the moment it comes in contact with a solid mass. This change in frequency is then measured, allowing researchers to find cells, DNA or bacteria present in the sample.

How significant is the development of this kind of technology in the field of medicine, health care and biometrics?

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