New nanotechnology sensor array unveiled

March 10, 2010 at 9:40 AM
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 10 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they've built a sensor array that, for the first time, can detect a molecule of hydrogen peroxide coming from a single living cell.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemical engineers said hydrogen peroxide has long been known to damage cells and their DNA. But now scientists have discovered the chemical appears to act as a signaling molecule in a critical cell pathway that stimulates growth, among other functions.

When that pathway goes awry, cells can become cancerous, so the scientists say understanding hydrogen peroxide's role could lead to new targets for potential cancer drugs.

The researchers, led by Associate Professor Michael Strano, said they used the array that consists of carbon nanotubes to study the flux of hydrogen peroxide that occurs when a common growth factor called EGF activates its target, a receptor known as EGFR, located on cell surfaces.

For the first time, the team showed hydrogen peroxide levels more than double when EGFR is activated.

The team also found that in skin cancer cells believed to have overactive EGFR activity, the hydrogen peroxide flux was 10 times greater than in normal cells. That, Strano said, means the technology might be useful in building diagnostic devices for some types of cancer.

The study's findings appear in the early online edition of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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