Prof Antje Baeumner, Professor of Analytical Chemistry and Director of the Institute of Analytical Chemistry, talks to AZoNano about her research into a new nanofiber material used within biosensors to explore new functionalities that can be used within the assays.
Please can you give an introduction to your research and what you presented at Pittcon 2016?
My overall research deals with the development of biosensors and Lab-on-chip devices. I presented the use of a new material at Pittcon - nanofibers within the biosensors and devices - in order to explore completely new functionalities that can be used within the assays.
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What are electrospun nanofibers?
Nanofibers are a polymer material that are really tiny, about 100 to 1000 times smaller than a human hair, and electrospinning is the process of making them small.
They can be created from a large variety of different polymers for different functions, and they are traditionally used in the textile and filter industry. Recently it has been discovered that they are also a good material for analytical chemistry.
What are their potential applications in enhancing bioassays?
These nanofibers are especially intriguing because they are so small; they have a very large surface area and exclude no volume. We can take advantage of this and the fact that they have a lot of different chemical functions. Together, this provides a completely new material to work with and use in biological assay.
Please can you outline the range of bioassays in paper-based lateral-flow assays (LFA) and polymer-based microfluidic devices?
Nanofibers can be used in lateral flow assays as the solid material where an assay takes place. It would replace the standard material, such as nitrocellulose that is used in home pregnancy tests and similar assays. It would also provide a much higher functionality and better pore sized distribution, than what could be achieved with standard materials.
In microfluidic systems it is even more interesting, because we could go from a two-dimensional analytical system to a three-dimensional system, where all reactions can take place within the reaction volume rather than only on the surfaces or a channel or structured channel.
It was more of a serendipity that we discovered the nanofibers are a really interesting material. I was at a talk with a colleague from the department of fiber science and apparel design, Margaret Frey, and we thought it would be a fun idea to try her fiber materials on our bioassays. That was about 8 years ago and it started from there, we never stopped looking at new possibilities.ACG: How did you determine whether electrospun nanofibers could add functionalities to the formats?
Can you please explain how you developed nanofiber modeling software that enables fluid dynamic studies to investigate mixing capabilities within the microfluidic devices?
When we create the nanofibers they come down as a chaotic material - imagine a bowl of spaghetti - and we would like to understand what happens within this “non-woven mat”.
The engineering approach to achieve this is to model it. We tried to buy software to model it, but it either wasn’t available, or the one that was available was not good enough. So we needed to develop our own model, and we thought this would take us 2 months.
About a year and a half later we have a perfect model, which we are now using to do the fluid dynamic models. We believe it has a much broader application, not only to bioassays, but also in tissues engineering, filtration aspects, and other areas.
Is current technology limiting your research in any way? What do you think the future holds for this field?
It is probably limited time and money availability, but I don’t think that there is really any technology that would hold us back. It is only that we have had to go forward step-by-step, make new discoveries, and add new possibilities for the materials based on those discoveries.
I believe that we will discover that the materials can be used in a variety of different biosensors and microfluidic systems, and overcome challenges that we continuously run into, whether it is a low limit of detection, sample preparation, or similar aspects.
Which talks at Pittcon have you found particularly interesting and relevant to your research?
I wish I could clone myself when I’m at Pittcon, because I would typically like to be in two or three sessions at the same time.
I have especially enjoyed the electro chemistry sessions, and some of the microfluidic platform talks.
What are the key benefits you believe people gain from attending Pittcon? What does Pittcon mean to you?
I think Pittcon is one of the greatest conferences you can go to if you are interested in analytical chemistry. It provides the possibility to completely immerse yourself in a variety of areas, in a breadth and depth of analytical chemistry, which you barely get at other conferences.
You can meet the top people in their fields, listen to detailed talks, big picture talks, and go to the exhibition floor to meet companies with their newest products, exchange information, and gain information about equipment that could be put on your future dream list.
I love coming to Pittcon, it is like a small science vacation when I come here.
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About Prof Antje Baeumner
Antje J. Baeumner is Professor of Analytical Chemistry and Director of the Institute of Analytical Chemistry, Chemo- and Biosensors at the University of Regensburg, Germany. Before accepting the position in Regensburg in 2013, she was Professor of Biological Engineering and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, USA where she went through the ranks from assistant to full professor between 1999 and 2008. She was for five years on the Board of Directors of the Society of Electroanalytical Chemistry, she is a member of the Extended Executive Committee of the International Association of Environmental Analytical Chemistry, and was the 2010 Chair of the Gordon Research Conference on Bioanalytical Sensors. She has received numerous honors in recent years including being Finalist for the Blavatnik Award of the NY Academy of Sciences, she is a recipient of a Humboldt Research Fellowship and a German National Science Foundation Mercator Guest Professorship. Her research is focused on the development of micro-total analysis systems and smart lateral flow assays for detection of pathogens and toxins in food and the environment, and for medical diagnostics. Nanomaterials play an important role in here research including nanoparticles and nanovesicles for signal amplification, nanofibers for immobilization and detection as well as mixing.
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