Using commercial semiconductors, Harvard scientists have improved on what is called nanopore technology, which could usher in a new era of personalized genetic medical treatments. Nanopores are tiny holes in a thin membrane that can quickly detect single biological molecules such as DNA and proteins—but their quickness trades off with accuracy, say scientists. Compounding the problem, electronic signals from the nanopores, which tell scientists about DNA composition, are extremely weak. By integrating semiconductors into nanopores, scientists can amplify the signal they receive.
What’s the Big Idea?
By receiving a stronger signal from nanopores, allowing scientists to more accurately determine DNA composition, a new generation of medical devices comes closer to fruition. The company Oxford Nanopore Technologies, for example, have developed a nanopore DNA sequencing system that is also a USB device, allowing data to be directly downloaded to a computer. Faster and cheaper DNA sequencing is the goal of an increasingly large branch of commercial medicine, which hopes to be able to offer individualized genetic solutions to noncommunicable diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s.