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Anal Chem. 2002 May 1;74(9):2190-7.

Micromachined nanocalorimetric sensor for ultra-low-volume cell-based assays.

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Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University of Glasgow, UK.


Current strategies for cell-based screening generally focus on the development of highly specific assays, which require an understanding of the nature of the signaling molecules and cellular pathways involved. In contrast, changes in temperature of cells provides a measure of altered cellular metabolism that is not stimulus specific and hence could have widespread applications in cell-based screening of receptor agonists and antagonists, as well as in the assessment of toxicity of new lead compounds. Consequently, we have developed a micromachined nanocalorimetric biological sensor using a small number of isolated living cells integrated within a subnanoliter format, which is capable of detecting 13 nW of generated power from the cells, upon exposure to a chemical or pharmaceutical stimulus. The sensor comprises a 10-junction gold and nickel thermopile, integrated on a silicon chip which was back-etched to span a 800-nm-thick membrane of silicon nitride. The thin-film membrane, which supported the sensing junctions of the thermoelectric transducer, gave the system a temperature resolution of 0.125 mK, a low heat capacity of 1.2 nJ mK(-1), and a rapid (unfiltered) response time of 12 ms. The application of the system in ultra-low-volume cell-based assays could provide a rapid endogenous screen. It offers important additional advantages over existing methods in that it is generic in nature, it does not require the use of recombinant cell lines or of detailed assay development, and finally, it can enable the use of primary cell lines or tissue biopsies.

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