Researchers receive NSF award to build nanolabs on a chip

San Diego, Calif., Oct. 6, 2017 -- Engineers at the University of California San Diego are leading a project to develop high-density nanowire arrays that can be used to measure and control multiple individual cells in large networks. Researchers envision that these nanodevices, combined with a patient’s own cells, could create low-cost, predictive drug-screening platforms to accelerate drug discovery and personalized treatments for neurological and cardiac diseases.

The project aims to build “nanolab-on-a-chip” machines that can be used to individually measure and manipulate large numbers of cells simultaneously. “There are encouraging new methods to understand and control cells one at a time, but there are currently no technologies to measure and control individually the thousands or millions of cells that make up our organs and that are needed to produce new medical therapies,” said Shadi Dayeh, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at UC San Diego and the lead investigator on the project.

The interdisciplinary team includes researchers from the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, the UC San Diego School of Medicine and Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. The work is funded by a $1.5 million award from the National Science Foundation Scalable Nanomanufacturing for Integrated Systems (SNM-IS) program.

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The work builds on a nanowire technology developed in Dayeh’s laboratory that can poke inside multiple individual neurons without damaging them and can record their electrical activity in fine detail. The technology will be extended to study heart muscle cells as well as neurons, as both types of cells serve as highly relevant human models for drug screening.

The project explores scalable fabrication methods that will enable researchers to build new architectures of nanowires in high densities and large numbers in integrated systems. The team is working to optimize these new nanowire architectures for brain-on-chip and heart-on-chip drug screening.

“This project combines the latest advances in nanowire and stem cell technologies to develop a complete system for precision medicine and to train students in engineering for medicine, a multidisciplinary area in which our Jacobs School of Engineering is a global leader,” Dayeh said.

Co-investigators on the project are bioengineering professor Gert Cauwenberghs, electrical engineering professor Yu-Hwa Lo and computer science professor Andrew Kahng, all at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering; Kelly Frazer, director of the UC San Diego Institute for Genomic Medicine and founding chief of the Division of Genome Information Sciences in the Department of Pediatrics at UC San Diego; and Anne Bang, director of cell biology at the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute.

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