The sensors rely on specific geometric patterns of gold nanoparticles that can identify and measure very low concentrations of the marker molecules that show a disease is present in human blood samples.
Imec has found that changing the shape of the nanoparticles can improve the sensor’s sensitivity and accuracy and so potentially detect diseases, including cancer, at an earlier stage.
‘This technology can detect even just a few molecules of disease markers with more precision than other sensors available,’ Imec spokesperson Jan Provoost told The Engineer.
When nanoparticles of noble metals such as gold or silver are hit with light they resonate at a certain wavelength in a phenomenon known as localised surface plasmon resonance.
The biosensors work by detecting changes in this resonance when the nanoparticle binds with a disease marker. Different sizes and shapes of nanoparticles produce different resonances.
By combining different nanostructures – in this case nanorings and nanodiscs – Imec was able to find the optimal resonance to increase the sensors’ sensitivity compared to traditional nanospheres.
Imec is looking for industrial partners to develop the technology into a commercial product.
‘With our bio-nano research, we aim at playing an important role in developing powerful healthcare diagnostics and therapy,’ said Prof Liesbet Lagae, program manager HUMAN++ on biomolecular interfacing technology.
‘We work on innovative instruments to support the research into diseases and we look into portable technologies that can diagnose diseases at an early stage.
‘We want to help the pharmaceutical and diagnostic industry with instruments to develop diagnostic tests and therapies more efficiently.’
Some of these results were achieved in collaboration with the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, Imperial College London, and Rice University, Texas.