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Missouri S&T research center develops single-cell analyzer

Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have developed a probe capable of detecting signs of disease or environmental change inside a single human cell.

Dr. Yinfa Ma, Curators’ Teaching Professor of chemistry, and Dr. Honglan Shi, associate research professor of chemistry at Missouri S&T, worked with colleagues at Clemson University to develop a single-cell analyzer that can be used for research and many other applications.

“It’s a novel design,” Ma says. “Everybody would like to see what’s going on in one cell – but how?”

With a collaborative effort, the team figured out how — and they applied for the patent in October 2014.

The work is funded through a $567,311 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.

To detect changes when a single cell is exposed to external variations caused by disease or environmental changes, the team developed an optic-fiber probe with hexagonal strands surrounding a center fiber. Imagine a doctor’s needle, and then scale it way, way down so the tip is 2 to 5 microns in size. When inserted into a cell, the probe’s fluorescent nanomaterial-doped tip is used to detect either its pH change or corresponding temperature change.