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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > University of Idaho > CAMBR VS MRSA

Ken Kingery
Science/Research Writer
University of Idaho

Scientists at the University of Idaho's Center for Advanced Microelectronics and Biomolecular Research (CAMBR) are using nanobiosensors capable of detecting MRSA - or any disease - in mere hours. In collaboration with the nanofacility at Cornell University, the team is zeroing in on nano-sized biosensors that use a signal detection molecule to detect molecules and proteins possessing any electrical charge, or no charge at all.

April 30th, 2009


One of the most dangerous illnesses lurking in hospitals today is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The so-called "superbug" is so dangerous because it is extremely resistant to the strongest antibiotics and detection still requires growing a culture in a Petri dish; a process that can take away several days of valuable treatment time.

Until now.

Scientists at the University of Idaho's Center for Advanced Microelectronics and Biomolecular Research (CAMBR) are using nanobiosensors capable of detecting MRSA - or any disease - in mere hours.

Since the summer of 2006, University of Idaho research scientist Nirankar Mishra has returned to his previous employer - the nanofacility at Cornell University - to fabricate a new generation of biosensors. Thanks to the strong working relationship between the two research institutions, CAMBR scientists come closer and closer to achieving the functionality, sensitivity and cost efficiency they desire their devices to possess.

But the real breakthrough came late last year when the group led by research assistant professor Wusi Maki discovered and patented what they call a detection signal molecule.

Nano-sized biosensors work by producing an electric charge when it captures a molecule with a charge of its own, affecting the nanowire's conduction properties. However, some proteins are difficult to detect because they can have any charge - or no charge at all.

Instead of finding ways through this issue, Maki and company found a way around it. Rather than trying to detect these molecules directly, scientists attach a "signal detection molecule" to the target molecule, and calibrate the nanosensors to detect the signal molecule. Because attaching the signal molecule to the target molecule is only a matter of changing the surface pattern of the former, scientists can detect molecule they want.

However, changing the surface pattern isn't simple. Because the circuits are on the nanoscale, modifications are very difficult. So the CAMBR group is constantly coming up with new shapes and configurations, which are fabricated at Cornell and tested in northern Idaho. Eventually, Maki and Mishra feel confident they will not only optimize the devices functionality and sensitivity, they will make it cheap enough to become widely available.

Maki compares her research to the computer chip of decades past. What used to cost a small fortune has become widely available to virtually everyone in the country - which is her ultimate goal.

The confidence that they will succeed is not unfounded. Every scientist on Idaho's CAMBR team has at least 10 years of experience in their field of study. Under this one umbrella, the team feels they have everything they could possibly need. And what they lack they have acquired by reaching out to the University of Idaho's main campus in Moscow.

Carolyn Bohach, Professor of Microbiology, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry (MMBB) at the University of Idaho, is an expert in the infamous 0157 serotype of E. coli. Thanks to the samples and information she provides, the CAMBR team is working hard to create biosensors for this deadly threat as well. Her husband and professor of MMBB Gregory Bohach is an expert in multiple strains of Staphylococcus, including the deadly MRSA. His laboratory has also provided invaluable samples in the effort for early detection.

In the end, it comes down to a dedicated group of individuals working diligently together to achieve a common goal. Instead of just one person focusing on their own work, the University of Idaho and CAMBR is a mecca for scientific collaboration aimed towards more than publication; they want to deliver a product to the world that could save millions of lives. And with their capital of talent, resources and ambition, nobody should bet against them pulling it off.

For more information about CAMBR, visit .

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