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News Article | April 21, 2017
Site: cen.acs.org

Ashland has agreed to acquire New Jersey-based Pharmachem Laboratories, a manufacturer of supplements and specialty ingredients for the wellness and personal care industries, for $660 million in cash. The deal will deepen Ashland’s move into consumer markets and shrink the industrial portion of its business. The company has been shifting focus since 2011, when it bought International Specialty Products (ISP). In 2014, Ashland sold its water technologies business. Ashland is also working to To view the rest of this content, please log in with your ACS ID.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: cen.acs.org

To detect the goings-on inside cells without the need for an external light source, scientists can genetically engineer cells to produce chemiluminescent reporter molecules. A new class of small molecules, however, can penetrate cells and monitor their biological processes by chemiluminescence, avoiding genetic modification. Chemiluminescence, the process that lights up glow sticks, occurs when a chemical reaction generates light. In the lab, researchers use it to monitor reactive oxygen species, diagnose pathogenic infections, and detect the results of chromatography, electrophoresis, immunoassays, nucleic acid assays, and blotting experiments. The new reagents are modified versions of a set of widely used chemiluminescent Schaap’s adamantylidene-dioxetanes, each of which has a characteristic protecting group that reacts when a specific enzyme or reactive compound is present. For example, the protecting groups may be substrates for a particular enzyme. When that enzyme is present, it cleaves the protecting group from the Schaap’s reagent, yielding an unstable phenolate-dioxetane that chemiluminesces. Schaap’s reagents work well in organic solvents but emit light only weakly in water. Three-component systems—each a mixture of a Schaap’s reagent, a surfactant, and an excitable fluorescent dye—shine about 100 times as brightly in water as Schaap’s reagents by themselves, but the mixtures aren’t used in cells because they are toxic. Scientists can also use the firefly substrate-enzyme pair luciferin and luciferase to monitor gene expression and other processes inside cells, but they must first engineer the cells to produce luciferase. Doron Shabat of Tel Aviv University and coworkers at the University of Geneva have now brightened up Schaap’s reagents in a way that permits their use in cells (ACS Cent. Sci. 2017, DOI: 10.1021/acscentsci.7b00058). The team adds electron-withdrawing substituents to conjugated positions on the reagents’ phenolate group, creating long π-electron systems that emit more light in water-based media. One modified reagent, with added acrylonitrile and chlorine groups, emits in aqueous solution 1,000 times as much light as a conventional Schaap’s reagent and 10 times as much as a three-component system. It is nearly as bright as luciferin-luciferase, it can simply diffuse into cells, and it doesn’t require genetic engineering. By adding different protecting groups as triggering substrates for various enzymes or reactive compounds, Shabat and coworkers used the new reagents to image β-galactosidase activity in single cells and to detect alkaline phosphatase, glutathione, and hydrogen peroxide in aqueous solution. “This simple and elegant molecular design provides a dramatic enhancement,” comments Alexander R. Lippert of Southern Methodist University. “No excitation light source is needed,” eliminating several problems associated with fluorescence-based cell analysis, including signal fading, toxicity, and background interference, he says. Shabat and coworkers have applied for a patent on the new reagents. The researchers hope to extend the molecules’ light emission range from the visible to the near infrared to improve their ability to penetrate tissue deeply for possible in vivo use. This article has been translated into Spanish by Divulgame.org and can be found here.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: cen.acs.org

A flexible battery made of gauzy silk films could power electronics and then melt away after a preset number of days (ACS Energy Lett. 2017, DOI: 10.1021/acsenergylett.7b00012). The biodegradable battery produces a high enough voltage to power temporary medical implants designed to harmlessly dissolve in the body in a few weeks once their work is done. Scientists have been making rapid progress on medical sensors and devices that could transmit images, stimulate wounds to heal, or deliver drugs for a short while before degrading. Most prototypes of these devices have been powered from an external source so they can only be placed skin-deep. To work deeper in the body, the devices will need an on-board power source. Dissolvable batteries are an ideal solution. Researchers have made such batteries before using natural, biocompatible materials for the electrodes and electrolytes. One team made electrodes out of the skin pigment melanin, while others have used thin foils of magnesium or iron. The electrolytes have typically been solutions of various salts in water, but liquid electrolytes can leak out and degrade battery electrodes, and they make batteries relatively bulky. In a fresh spin on degradable batteries, Caiyun Wang and Gordon G. Wallace of the University of Wollongong and colleagues made electrodes and a solid electrolyte out of silk. The solid electrolyte enables thinner, flatter, and more flexible and robust batteries, says Wang. Silk is ideal for medical electronics because it can be made into thin films, is biocompatible, and is sturdy enough to work in electronic circuitry. The researchers made the thin films that comprise the new battery by first dissolving a fibrous silk protein called fibroin, derived from silkworm cocoons, in water. They spread the solution in a mold and peeled off ultrathin films of silk after the water evaporated. To make the electrolyte, they infused a piece of the silk membrane with the ionic liquid choline nitrate, a molten salt that is excellent at conducting ions, by adding it to the silk fibroin solution. To make electrodes, they deposited a biocompatible magnesium alloy on a piece of the silk film to form an anode and deposited gold on another piece to form a cathode. They assembled the battery by sandwiching the electrolyte between the two electrode films and fusing together the uncoated edges with a sticky, amorphous silk film. The postage-stamp-sized, 170-µm-thick device generated a voltage of 0.87 V and had a power density of 8.7 µW/cm2, which would be enough to power an implantable medical sensor. Placed in a saline buffer solution, the battery showed a stable voltage for about an hour, after which the anode started breaking down. When the researchers added an extra silk film on top of the anode, the voltage remained stable for nearly two hours. Previously reported biodegradable batteries have lasted for about 15 minutes. The device nearly completely decomposed after 45 days in the solution, leaving behind inert gold nanoparticles, which would be cleared by the body. By adjusting the properties of the silk layers encapsulating the battery, Wallace says they could tailor how long it predictably generates power and how quickly it dissolves. The silk-ionic liquid electrolyte improves the performance of magnesium-based decomposable batteries, says Christopher J. Bettinger of Carnegie Mellon University. “These batteries can maintain a pretty high voltage for a relatively long amount of time,” he says. For medical applications it would be important to consider the toxicity of the ionic liquids, he says, but this “could also be a compostable battery for other uses.”


News Article | May 2, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

IMAGE:  Derby Day means it's time to recognize the chemical process of distillation, which makes bourbon possible. Water and ethanol have different boiling points, so they can be separated by carefully... view more WASHINGTON, May 2, 2017 -- Derby Day is around the corner, and with it comes big hats, horses with funny names, and bourbon. The latest episode of Reactions celebrates the chemical process of distillation that makes bourbon and other whiskey varieties possible. Since water and ethanol, along with tasty flavors, have different boiling points, they can be separated by carefully heating the mash that starts off every whiskey. Each distillery carefully protects their still design, engineered to create their signature liquor. The strongest flavors take aging, but might some innovative whiskey makers find a way to hack maturation time? There's a barrel-full of chemistry in this video about whiskey: https:/ . Subscribe to the series at http://bit. , and follow us on Twitter @ACSreactions to be the first to see our latest videos. The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. ACS does not conduct research, but publishes and publicizes peer-reviewed scientific studies. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio. To automatically receive news releases from the American Chemical Society, contact newsroom@acs.org.


News Article | May 1, 2017
Site: phys.org

Image generated by the glow stick probe of cancerous cells. Credit: Prof. Doron Shabat/American Friends of Tel Aviv University (AFTAU) Chemiluminescence, or chemical light, is the principle behind the glow sticks (also known as light sticks) used at rock concerts and as quick tools to grab when the electricity goes out. But they can also be used to diagnose diseases by identifying concentrations of biological samples. A new mechanism developed by Tel Aviv University researchers produces a 3,000-times-brighter, water-resistant chemiluminescent probe with particular application to medical and cancer diagnosis. The research found that tweaking the electronic structure of current probes improves their inherent fluorescence. This could lead to the invention of a new single-component system with multiple applications—including the detection and measurement of cellular activity that points to certain pathologies, such as cancer. The study was recently published in ACS Central Science. "Chemiluminescence is considered one of the most sensitive methods used in diagnostic testing," said Prof. Doron Shabat of TAU's School of Chemistry, who led the research. "We have developed a method to prepare highly efficient compounds that emit light upon contact with a specific protein or chemical. These compounds can be used as molecular probes to detect cancerous cells, among other applications." The research, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Christoph Bauer of Geneva University, repairs an energy-loss "glitch" in current chemiluminescent probes. Most systems use a mixture of one emitter molecule that detects the species of interest, and another two additional ingredients—a fluorophore and a soap-like substance called a surfactant—that amplify the signal to detectable levels. But energy is lost in the transfer process from the emitter molecule to the fluorophore, and surfactants are not biocompatible. "As synthetic chemists, we knew how to link structure and function," said Prof. Shabat. "By adding two key atoms, we created a much brighter probe than those currently on the market. In addition, this particular molecule is suitable for direct use in cells." Based on this molecule, the researchers developed sensors to detect several biologically relevant chemicals. They also used the chemiluminescent molecule to measure the activity of several enzymes and to image cells by microscopy. "This gives us a new powerful methodology with which we can prepare highly efficient chemiluminescence sensors for the detection, imaging and analysis of various cell activities," said Prof. Shabat. The researchers are currently exploring ways of amplifying the chemiluminescence of the new probes for in vivo imaging. More information: Ori Green et al, Opening a Gateway for Chemiluminescence Cell Imaging: Distinctive Methodology for Design of Bright Chemiluminescent Dioxetane Probes, ACS Central Science (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acscentsci.7b00058


News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

DURHAM, N.C. -- A cartilage-mimicking material created by researchers at Duke University may one day allow surgeons to 3-D print replacement knee parts that are custom-shaped to each patient's anatomy. Human knees come with a pair of built-in shock absorbers called the menisci. These ear-shaped hunks of cartilage, nestled between the thigh and shin bones, cushion every step we take. But a lifetime of wear-and-tear -- or a single wrong step during a game of soccer or tennis -- can permanently damage these key supports, leading to pain and an increased risk of developing arthritis. The hydrogel-based material the researchers developed is the first to match human cartilage in strength and elasticity while also remaining 3-D-printable and stable inside the body. To demonstrate how it might work, the researchers used a $300 3-D printer to create custom menisci for a plastic model of a knee. "We've made it very easy now for anyone to print something that is pretty close in its mechanical properties to cartilage, in a relatively simple and inexpensive process," said Benjamin Wiley, an associate professor of chemistry at Duke and author on the paper, which appears online in ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering. After we reach adulthood, the meniscus has limited ability to heal on its own. Surgeons can attempt to repair a torn or damaged meniscus, but often it must be partially or completely removed. Available implants either do not match the strength and elasticity of the original cartilage, or are not biocompatible, meaning they do not support the growth of cells to encourage healing around the site. Recently, materials called hydrogels have been gaining traction as a replacement for lost cartilage. Hydrogels are biocompatible and share a very similar molecular structure to cartilage: if you zoom in on either, you'll find a web of long string-like molecules with water molecules wedged into the gaps. But researchers have struggled to create recipes for synthetic hydrogels that are equal in strength to human cartilage or that are 3-D-printable. "The current gels that are available are really not as strong as human tissues, and generally, when they come out of a printer nozzle they don't stay put -- they will run all over the place, because they are mostly water," Wiley said. Feichen Yang, a graduate student in Wiley's lab and author on the paper, experimented with mixing together two different types of hydrogels -- one stiffer and stronger, and the other softer and stretchier -- to create what is called a double-network hydrogel. "The two networks are woven into each other," Yang said. "And that makes the whole material extremely strong." By changing the relative amounts of the two hydrogels, Yang could adjust the strength and elasticity of the mixture to arrive at a formula that best matches that of human cartilage. He also mixed in a special ingredient, a nanoparticle clay, to make the mock-cartilage 3-D-printable. With the addition of the clay, the hydrogel flows like water when placed under shear stress, such as when being squeezed through a small needle. But as soon as the stress is gone, the hydrogel immediately hardens into its printed shape. 3-D printing of other custom-shaped implants, including hip replacements, cranial plates, and even spinal vertebrae, is already practiced in orthopedic surgery. These custom implants are based on virtual 3-D models of a patient's anatomy, which can be obtained from computer tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Meniscus implants could also benefit from 3-D printing's ability to create customized and complex shapes, the researchers say. "Shape is a huge deal for the meniscus," Wiley said. "This thing is under a lot of pressure, and if it doesn't fit you perfectly it could potentially slide out, or be debilitating or painful." "A meniscus is not a homogenous material," Yang added. "The middle is stiffer, And the outside is a bit softer. Multi-material 3-D printers let you print different materials in different layers, but with a traditional mold you can only use one material." In a simple demonstration, Yang took a CT scan of a plastic model of a knee and used the information from the scan to 3-D print new menisci using his double network hydrogel. The whole process, from scan to finished meniscus, took only about a day, he says. "This is really a young field, just starting out," Wiley said. "I hope that demonstrating the ease with which this can be done will help get a lot of other people interested in making more realistic printable hydrogels with mechanical properties that are even closer to human tissue." This research was supported by start-up funds from Duke University and grants from the National Science Foundation (ECCS-1344745, DMR-1253534). CITATION: "3D Printing of a Double Network Hydrogel with a Compression Strength and Elastic Modulus Greater than that of Cartilage," Feichen Yang, Vaibhav Tadepalli and Benjamin J. Wiley. ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering, online April 3, 2017. DOI: 10.1021/acsbiomaterials.7b00094


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.materialstoday.com

A self-healing, water-repellent, spray-on coating developed at the University of Michigan (U-M) is hundreds of times more durable than its counterparts. This novel coating could be used to waterproof vehicles, clothing, rooftops and countless other surfaces exposed to conditions that are too harsh for current waterproofing treatments. It could also lower the resistance of ship hulls, a step that would reduce the fuel consumption of the massive vessels that transport 90% of the world's cargo. The developers say the new concoction is a breakthrough in a field where decades of research have failed to produce a durable coating. While water-repellent finishes are available at present, they're typically not strong enough for applications like clothing or ship hulls. This discovery changes that. "Thousands of superhydrophobic surfaces have been looked at over the past 20 or 30 years, but nobody has been able to figure out how to systematically design one that's durable," said Anish Tuteja, U-M associate professor of materials science and engineering. "I think that's what we've really accomplished here, and it's going to open the door for other researchers to create cheaper, perhaps even better superhydrophobic coatings." The novel coating is made of a mix of a material called ‘fluorinated polyurethane elastomer’ and a specialized water-repellent molecule known as ‘F-POSS’. It can be easily sprayed onto virtually any surface and has a slightly rubbery texture that makes it more resilient than its predecessors. If it is damaged, the coating can heal itself hundreds of times. It can bounce back "even after being abraded, scratched, burned, plasma-cleaned, flattened, sonicated and chemically attacked," the researchers write in a paper in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces. In addition to recovering physically, the coating can heal itself chemically. If water-repellent F-POSS molecules are scraped from the surface, new molecules will naturally migrate there to replace them. That's how the coating can renew itself hundreds of times; its healing ability is limited only by its thickness. The coating is already being commercialized by HygraTek, a company founded by Tuteja, with assistance from U-M Tech Transfer. Beyond the coatings detailed in the paper, this project also produced what amounts to a recipe that researchers can use to optimize future coatings for a specific application's requirements in terms of cost, durability and other factors. As lead author and U-M doctoral student Kevin Golovin explains, the team used a process that was radically different from previous research in the field. "Most materials science researchers have focused on identifying one specific chemical system that's as durable and water-repellent as possible," he said. "We approached the problem differently, by measuring and mapping out the basic chemical properties that make a water-repellent coating durable. And some of the results surprised us." For example, most hydrophobic coatings are made of two main ingredients: an active molecule that provides the water-repellency and a binder. Generally, researchers have assumed that using more durable ingredients would make a more durable coating. But Tuteja's team found that's not necessarily the case. They discovered that even more important than durability is a property called ‘partial miscibility’, or the ability of two substances to partially mix together. The other key variable the team discovered is the stability of the water-repellent surface. Most water-repellent coatings work because their surface has a very specific geometry, often microscopic pillars. Water droplets perch on top of these pillars, creating air pockets underneath that deny the water a solid place to rest and cause it to roll off easily. But such surfaces tend to be fragile – slight abrasion or even the pressure of the water itself can damage them. The team's research revealed that a slightly pliable surface can escape this pitfall – even though it seems less durable, its pliable properties allow it to bounce back from damage. Tuteja estimates that the coatings will be available for use before the end of 2017 for applications including water-repellent fabrics and spray-on coatings that can be purchased directly by consumers. This story is adapted from material from the University of Michigan, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.


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News Article | April 18, 2017
Site: www.techrepublic.com

It's not uncommon to see Xerox characterized as a company past its prime, as a survivor from a bygone era that's been left behind by the modern world. Revenues at the print services company have been steadily declining for years, dropping by about 6% in 2016—partly a reflection of the shrinking demand for the printed page in an era of internet-connected phones and tablets. Yet Xerox remains an $11bn company, which enjoys gross margins of 40 percent and has cut annual costs by more than $300m, as part of an ongoing strategic transformation program. And company CEO Jeff Jacobson acknowledges that Xerox needs to change tack, to refocus its efforts on areas in print where demand is growing, not falling. "The industry is declining and if you were to look at the top six people in the industry, they're probably declining from three to five percent and our declines have been in line with that," he said. "Part of the reason we're introducing this new strategy is to reverse the revenue trajectory of our business, to minimize the declines, to generate more cash flow, and be able to reinvest back into the business in innovation and in technology." SEE: Your life in AI's hands: The battle to understand deep learning As part of its strategy to carve out a more promising future, Xerox has just staged the largest product launch in its 110-year history, releasing 29 multi-function printers under its AltaLink and VersaLink brands. "Let's say a little under 40 percent of our revenues are in the growth markets," says Jacobson. "What our goal is by the year 2020, is to have at least 50 percent of our revenue in those growth markets—A4 multifunction devices, production color, managed print services and to generate more share in the SMB market," he said. Aware that Xerox will need to significantly pivot its business in the long run, the company is specializing in the emerging technologies it sees as a natural fit for its core competencies. Somewhat surprisingly, given the hype, 3D printing isn't a high priority. "At this point we're not sure that we will go heavily into 3D printing," said Jacobson, describing it as "an area that is in the very early stages". Xerox is looking to get in on the ground floor in other newer print technologies, such printing directly on objects. "One of the technologies we're just introducing now is the direct-to-object printer. So you can basically take any object you want, put it into the device and it'll print on plastics, it'll print on fabrics, it'll print on baseball caps, golf balls, thermoses, coffee mugs, books, whatever you want," he said. Xerox's direct-to-object printing is already being tested by customers in the UK, although Jacobson says the technology is still at "very early stages". Another new area that Xerox is already experimenting with is printed electronics, for example, smart labels for packaging that can help tracking a package or offer information about a product, such as whether food produce has spoiled. "We're in the very early stages, but that's where we're placing our bets right now," he said, saying the technology will play a role in the accelerating the Internet of Things, particularly in embedding compute, storage and sensors into 3D printed objects. To an extent, Xerox is now freer to pursue research directly related to print than it previously was, having recently completed the spinoff of its business services unit Conduent. The split into business services-focused Conduent, much of which originated from Xerox's acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) for $6.4bn in 2010, and the print-focused Xerox will allow each to pursue their very different markets, according to Jacobson. "There really weren't a lot of synergies. We believe that separating the two companies and having Conduent focus on its own business and having the new Xerox focus on its business, would be best for both companies and therefore best for the shareholders," he said, adding that Xerox is now pursuing R&D in areas related to automation, workflow and content management, graphic communications, analytics and printing. Robert Palmer, research director with IDC's imaging, printing and document solutions group, said, in the short term, it makes sense for Xerox to target a broader range of print customers, such as SMBs, but added the firm will face competition from market incumbents. "Xerox is making significant investments in technology and support infrastructure to expand deeper into the SMB market, particularly in the A4 business where it currently holds single-digit share. "The strategy is sound but success will depend upon Xerox's ability to take share from competitors that are already entrenched." However, modest changes of focus will also only take Xerox so far, and will need to be the first step in a more profound transformation of the business, according to Holly Muscolino, research VP for content technologies and document workflow at IDC. "All of these strategies are short term (mid-term at best) as they all increase share of a declining market. Market share is simply shifting around between the players - there is no net growth," she said. "As a next step, Xerox must diversify into adjacent new markets. They must help organizations transform their document strategies, contribute to overall business transformation and deliver innovative solutions that can offer independence from the declining printing equipment market." One note of consolation for Xerox is that most offices are still awash with paper, and are likely to remain so for some time. While acknowledging that demand for paper printing is in decline, Jacobson is skeptical that the paperless office, whose arrival has been forecast for decades, will become a reality for most businesses anytime soon. "I think it has a long, long, long tail," he said, pointing out that technologies such as offset printing have endured for more than 100 years after their invention.


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: news.mit.edu

A single cell can contain a wealth of information about the health of an individual. Now, a new method developed at MIT and National Chiao Tung University could make it possible to capture and analyze individual cells from a small sample of blood, potentially leading to very low-cost diagnostic systems that could be used almost anywhere. The new system, based on specially treated sheets of graphene oxide, could ultimately lead to a variety of simple devices that could be produced for as little as $5 apiece and perform a variety of sensitive diagnostic tests even in places far from typical medical facilities. The material used in this research is an oxidized version of the two-dimensional form of pure carbon known as graphene, which has been the subject of widespread research for over a decade because of its unique mechanical and electrical characteristics. The key to the new process is heating the graphene oxide at relatively mild temperatures. This low-temperature annealing, as it is known, makes it possible to bond particular compounds to the material’s surface. These compounds in turn select and bond with specific molecules of interest, including DNA and proteins, or even whole cells. Once captured, those molecules or cells can then be subjected to a variety of tests. The findings are reported in the journal ACS Nano, in a paper co-authored by Neelkanth Bardhan, an MIT postdoc, and Priyank Kumar PhD ’15, now a postdoc at ETH Zurich; Angela Belcher, the James Mason Crafts Professor in biological engineering and materials science and engineering at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; Jeffrey Grossman, the Morton and Claire Goulder and Family Professor in Environmental Systems at MIT; Hidde L. Ploegh, a professor of biology and member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research; Guan-Yu Chen, an assistant professor in biomedical engineering at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan; and Zeyang Li, a doctoral student at the Whitehead Institute. Other researchers have been trying to develop diagnostic systems using a graphene oxide substrate to capture specific cells or molecules, but these approaches used just the raw, untreated material. Despite a decade of research, other attempts to improve such devices’ efficiency have relied on external modifications, such as surface patterning through lithographic fabrication techniques, or adding microfluidic channels, which add to the cost and complexity. The new finding offers a mass-producible, low-cost approach to achieving such improvements in efficiency. The heating process changes the material’s surface properties, causing oxygen atoms to cluster together, leaving spaces of bare graphene between them. This makes it relatively easy to attach other chemicals to the surface, which can interact with specific molecules of interest. The new research demonstrates how that basic process could potentially enable a suite of low-cost diagnostic systems, for example for cancer screening or treatment follow-up. For this proof-of-concept test, the team used molecules that can quickly and efficiently capture specific immune cells that are markers for certain cancers. They were able to demonstrate that their treated graphene oxide surfaces were almost twice as effective at capturing such cells from whole blood, compared to devices fabricated using ordinary, untreated graphene oxide, says Bardhan, the paper’s lead author. The system has other advantages as well, Bardhan says. It allows for rapid capture and assessment of cells or biomolecules under ambient conditions within about 10 minutes and without the need for refrigeration of samples or incubators for precise temperature control. And the whole system is compatible with existing large-scale manufacturing methods, making it possible to produce diagnostic devices for less than $5 apiece, the team estimates. Such devices could be used in point-of-care testing or resource-constrained settings. Existing methods for treating graphene oxide to allow functionalization of the surface require high temperature treatments or the use of harsh chemicals, but the new system, which the group has patented, requires no chemical pretreatment and an annealing temperature of just 50 to 80 degrees Celsius (122 to 176 F). While the team’s basic processing method could make possible a wide variety of applications, including solar cells and light-emitting devices, for this work the researchers focused on improving the efficiency of capturing cells and biomolecules that can then be subjected to a suite of tests. They did this by enzymatically coating the treated graphene oxide surface with peptides called nanobodies — subunits of antibodies, which can be cheaply and easily produced in large quantities in bioreactors and are highly selective for particular biomolecules. The researchers found that increasing the annealing time steadily increased the efficiency of cell capture: After nine days of annealing, the efficiency of capturing cells from whole blood went from 54 percent, for untreated graphene oxide, to 92 percent for the treated material. The team then performed molecular dynamics simulations to understand the fundamental changes in the reactivity of the graphene oxide base material. The simulation results, which the team also verified experimentally, suggested that upon annealing, the relative fraction of one type of oxygen (carbonyl) increases at the expense of the other types of oxygen functional groups (epoxy and hydroxyl) as a result of the oxygen clustering. This change makes the material more reactive, which explains the higher density of cell capture agents and increased efficiency of cell capture. “Efficiency is especially important if you’re trying to detect a rare event,” Belcher says. “The goal of this was to show a high efficiency of capture.” The next step after this basic proof of concept, she says, is to try to make a working detector for a specific disease model. In principle, Bardhan says, many different tests could be incorporated on a single device, all of which could be placed on a small glass slide like those used for microscopy. “I think the most interesting aspect of this work is the claimed clustering of oxygen species on graphene sheets and its enhanced performance in surface functionalization and cell capture,” says Younan Xia, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Georgia Institute of Technology who was not involved in this work. “It is an interesting idea.” The work was supported by the Army Research Office Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies and MIT’s Tata Center and Solar Frontiers Center.

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