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UCSB Investigator Gets $3.2M Grant for Aptamer Project

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A research team led by an investigator at The University of California, Santa Barbara will use a $3.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop technology for generating new aptamers, nucleic acids designed to bind to specific molecular targets.

Scientists from UC Santa Barbara, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Morgridge Institute for Research, plan to develop a new system for discovering and mass producing new high-performance aptamers for use in point-of-care diagnostics and other applications.

The Quantitative Parallel Aptamer Selection System (QPASS) that the researchers are developing provides a solution to problems that have snagged aptamer research for two decades, such as the length and costs of the development process, and the stability of molecules at room temperature, UC Santa Barbara said today.

"Our technology is the first step toward devices that could instantly test for HIV or H1N1 in the field or at the bedside, instead of wasting critical time and money waiting for results," lead investigator Tom Soh, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials and co-director of the Center for Stem Cell Biology and Engineering at UCSB, said in a statement.

"We are developing innovative new technologies that make each step of our process several orders of magnitude more efficient," Soh said. "QPASS will generate high-performance synthetic affinity reagents in a massively parallel manner to meet a growing need in labs and clinics."

Soh and his colleagues have already developed a disposable chip for detecting microbes, and this new aptamer synthesis technology will be used to make those chips ready for widespread use, UC Santa Barbara said.

In this project, Soh is developing a microfluidics-based tool for finding the best aptamer sequences among trillions of possibilities.

James Thomson, also a co-director of the UC Santa Barbara stem cell center and director of regenerative biology at the Morgridge Institute, will use a computer algorithm-based method that he designed to identify promising sequences.

Lloyd Smith, another partner on the project and a director of the Genome Center of Wisconsin, is using Surface Plasmon Resonance Imaging in combination with a DNA chip to "validate 10,000 times more sequences than current practices, identifying the most effective aptamers instantly," according to the UCSB statement.