AD&T's Diagnostics theme tackles problems in the context of hospital-based, doctor’s office, or community health efforts; individual health and environmental monitoring; and assays for low-resource environments. AD&T's broad combination of expertise in molecular sensing, microfluidic instrumentation, paper-based devices, nanofabrication, chemical cytometry, and biomarker discovery enables Notre Dame to have a strong impact on this highly competitive field.

Some current Diagnostics-related projects supported by AD&T include:

An organ-on-a-chip with real-time miRNA monitoring
This interdisciplinary project brings together expertise from tissue engineering, stem cell research, nanobiosensors, and microfluidics to facilitate research on acute myocardial infarction (MI), a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Researchers have discovered circulating microRNA (miRNA) are potential biomarkers for early assessment of MI and other cardiovascular diseases, but animal models often fail to predict responses in humans and human subjects do not allow for the precise control needed to study biomarker expression. The aim of this research is to design a physiologically relevant on-chip cardiac model with a real time biosensor to monitor fluctuations in miRNA biomarkers in human cardiac cells during distressed states. Not only will such a chip aid in cardiac research, it has the potential to provide better information about fluctuations among different populations and allow for better personalized diagnostics. (PI: Zorlutuna)

Naked eye assay to detect influenza viruses and measure drug susceptibility
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention associates over 200,000 annual hospitalizations and 23,000 deaths to the seasonal influenza virus. The gold standard for flu diagnosis is viral culture, which requires several days to develop, while current quick-response tests involve expensive equipment and training. This project is an effort to demonstrate a new rapid and low-cost diagnostic test for influenza viruses that emits red light, visible to the naked eye, when viewed under a simple handheld UV lamp. After optimization, the test will be usable in doctor’s offices and at home. Not only will the test reduce the misuse of antibiotics and slow the spread of viral drug resistance, it will also indicate to physicians whether individual patients will respond better one of two major antiviral drugs, Zanamivir or Oseltamivir, enhancing the precision of their treatment. (PI: Brad Smith)

A urine-based rapid screening test for patients suffering from drug addiction
This partnership with Memorial Hospital in South Bend, IN, uses a microfluidic detection platform already invented by the team for the rapid and accurate detection of signs of drug use in addicted patients. It opens up the possibility of faster screening for drugs of abuse, such as cocaine and opiates, in patients long after the drug has disappeared from physiological samples. Drug screening is done today in hospitals, but current technology is cumbersome and expensive. Instead, the device would detect a biomarker produced in response to drug use, miR-212, and enable doctors to monitor individuals as they move along the trajectory of addiction. (PI: Satyajyoti Senapati)

A SERS-based approach for sensing small molecules
This work, which is being conducted in collaboration with chemical analysis company OndaVia, will help biomedical researchers better understand the roles of hydrogen peroxide, nitrogen monoxide, and other small molecules in different biological and disease processes through a technique known as surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). The project builds on a previous AD&T award which enabled the investigators to use SERS to detect hydrazine, an environmental pollutant, with high sensitivity in lake water samples. The new effort is focused on improving the detection of molecules that have been implicated in aging and diseases such as chronic inflammation, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. (PI: Jon Camden)

Paper analytical devices for detection and quantification of ground-level air pollutants
This project involves the design and testing of a new paper analytical device for monitoring ground-level air pollution that is three orders of magnitude less expensive than commercial ozone sensors. The device will be able to detect ozone, sulfur dioxide, or nitrogen oxides, and can be used to build maps of ground level air pollution across a region. This is particularly important for the young, elderly, and poor living in areas susceptible to high levels of air pollution, which is a significant risk factor for respiratory infections, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke, and lung cancer. (PI: Marya Lieberman)

Novel diagnostics for biotransport of aquatic environmental contaminants
This partnership with Central Michigan University is developing a new diagnostic approach akin to “chemical forensics” to assess how fish accumulate and disperse important environmental contaminants that also have human health implications. Specifically, the group is trying to determine how and when Great Lakes fish of economic importance—namely Pacific salmon and native walleye—accumulate heavy metals and other toxins. (PI: Gary Lamberti)

Using speech as an early marker and predictive classifier of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
This collaborative research with Saint Mary’s College is investigating the feasibility of using speech analysis as an early marker and classifier of autism and development of a first set of prototypes of low-cost and portable ASD risk analysis and assessment tools (on devices such as smartphones and tablets) for practitioners and/or parents. The work studies a novel, non-intrusive, and easy-to-collect marker for ASD and may lead to practical tools for early detection of ASD and continuous assessment of children with autism. (PI: Christian Poellabauer)

Cortical Thickness Variation as a Biomarker for Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects roughly one out of every 60 children, and is thought to be due to alterations in neurodevelopment. These changes happen very early, even during gestation often manifesting themselves in deviations in cortical thickness. This project will investigate patterns of cortical thickness in individuals with ASD as well as typically-developing individuals, to characterize the regional and temporal variations in cortical thickness in health and disease. The goal of this study is to establish relationships between the mechanics of brain development and cortical thickness that will lead to new objective measures for early diagnosis from medical images. (PI: Holland)

Stem Cells and their Exosomes: to Model and Predict Preeclampsia 
Currently, there are no preventive measures and treatment strategies for preeclampsia, other than delivery. This partly due to the lack of early predictive biomarkers and reliable in vitro models to study it. Thus new approaches to model vascular remodeling and the development of the placenta could provide new insights, early predictive biomarkers, and innovative treatment strategies for preeclampsia. This study proposes to look at the role stem cells and their exosomes play in regulating vascular homeostasis and vascular remodeling during pregnancy to define their prospects as biomarkers and potential therapeutics. (PIs: Hanjaya-Putra and Go)

Electrophoretic Fractionation of a Complex Microbiome
Current techniques for characterizing microbiomes requires searching through vast amounts of redundant data from abundant species to identify rare species. The aim of this project is to develop a rapid and simple method to characterize the separation efficiency for selected bacterial species within an environmental microbiome that has been fractionalized by capillary electrophoresis. Once developed, this assay will be used to optimize sample preparation and separation with the long term goal of using this optimized separation to characterize an environmental microbiome. (PIs: Dovichi and Champion)

For more information on this research, please contact Arnie Phifer, Associate Director, or the listed principal investigators.