Magnetic biosensor

Magnetic biosensor array simplifies the detection of genetic and epigenetic abnormalities in cancer

Monday 05 Mar 18


Associate Professor Mikkel Fougt Hansen
Department of Micro- and Nanotechnology, DTU Nanotech
Technical University of Denmark
Ph: 4525 6338

Dr. Giovanni Rizzi
Department of Materials Science and Engineering & Department of Electrical Engineering
Stanford University, California 

Professor Shan X. Wang
Department of Materials Science and Engineering & Department of Electrical Engineering
Stanford University, California 

In standard settings, the analysis of each DNA modification requires a carefully optimised assay that runs under specific conditions. This increases cost and labour and is a severe limitation to throughput. Now, however, researchers at Stanford University and the Technical University of Denmark have come up with a new method that will enable doctors to make a more precise diagnosis, prognosis and evaluation of the response to treatment.

Cancer arises when cells acquire errors (mutations) at certain locations in the DNA. These mutations are responsible for the characteristics of the cancer cells, and knowledge about the mutations present in a patient’s cancer is important for the diagnosis and treatment. A subset of these mutations may even be “druggable” targets, which can be directly exploited with a therapeutic intent. It has also become clear that so-called epigenetic modifications of the DNA such as methylation (adding a methyl group to the DNA) can contribute to cancer development by deactivating tumour suppressing genes. Knowing both the genetic and epigenetic profile of a patient’s cancer enables doctors to provide a more efficient diagnosis and treatment.

Genetic and epigenetic modifications can be detected using a range of molecular techniques. However, in standard settings, analysis of each DNA modification requires a carefully optimised assay that runs under specific conditions. This increases cost and labour, and is a severe limitation to throughput. Therefore, there is a need for a method that can easily and simultaneously examine a high number of genetic and epigenetic modifications.

Investigating a large number of modifications at a time
The solution relies on measurements of the DNA target using a large array of magnetic field sensors based on the Giant Magneto Resistive (GMR) effect, which is also used in read heads in magnetic hard disk drives. Each sensor in the array is used to investigate a specific sequence in the DNA. Microscopic magnetic nanoparticles are attached to the DNA to generate a signal. The biosensor array is used to investigate multiple sequences of DNA simultaneously using different probes. Varying the temperature during a single experiment is used to investigate the binding strength of the DNA and identify possible mutations. The chip method provides information comparable to the standard methods used to investigate a single or a few DNA modifications (melting curve measurements), but it does so in a scalable manner such that a large number of modifications can be investigated in a single experiment.

“We demonstrated the use of a 64-sensor array for the simultaneous profiling of five mutation and four methylation sites on a series of melanoma samples,” says postdoc Giovanni Rizzi, DTU Nanotech (now at Stanford University).

The results matched those obtained in a reference laboratory.

“Interestingly, it was found that the measurements on the sensor array provided quantitative information on the degree of methylation, which was equivalent to that obtained by the laboratory reference method – a method called pyrosequencing,” Giovanni Rizzi explains.

Enabling doctors to detect a broader spectrum of modifications
Giovanni Rizzi expects the method to have great potential: “The strength of the method – as I see it – is its flexibility with no need for careful optimisation of assay conditions and its scalability in the number of DNA modifications that can be investigated simultaneously.”

Co-author Per Guldberg from the Danish Cancer Society agrees: “Implemented in a diagnostic setting this will enable doctors to detect and monitor a broader spectrum of genetic and epigenetic modifications in a patient’s cancer. This will enable them to make a more precise diagnosis and prediction of prognosis. Moreover, this can be done more frequently and potentially even while the patient is waiting. Thus, patients may be immediately informed of the diagnosis result within their first visit, and the doctors are ready to explain the most effective therapy to the type of cancer for which the patient is diagnosed.”

Currently tested on bodily fluids
The technology is currently being further developed at Stanford University. The biosensor array will be used to analyse DNA from so-called liquid biopsies. Here, a sample of bodily fluids (as saliva, urine or blood) is used rather than a sample of cancer tissue. In such a way, the analysis could be performed in a completely non-invasive way.

Published in ACS Nano
The paper made in collaboration between researchers at Stanford University, the Danish Cancer Society and the Technical University of Denmark; “Simultaneous profiling of DNA Mutation and Methylation by Melting Analysis Using Magnetoresistive Biosensor Array” is published in ACS Nano 11, 8864-8870 (2017)

GMR sensor chip

Figure 1:The GMR Sensor chip is placed between two electromagnets to perform the measurements. Each sensor is coated with a different DNA probe. The DNA molecules in the sample first bind to the sensor spots and link magnetic nanoparticles to the surface. Then, the signal is measured vs. temperature to investigate the temperature at which the DNA comes off the sensor. This gives a measurement of the binding strength and is used to identify genetic and epigenetic abnormalities.

Mounted temperature controlled DNA chip

Figure 2: Images of stem cells growing and differentiating into dopaminergic neurons on optical fiber electrodes: A: Live stem cells during growth, imaged using confocal microscopy; B: differentiated cells in scanning electron microscopy; C: differentiated cells in confocal laser microscopy – the blue color indicates cells with the ability to release dopamine.