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Scientists make strides with real-time estrogen sensor

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As scientists develop next-generation sensors to facilitate patient monitoring, researchers in New Zealand are rolling out a sensor device that can detect estrogen levels without some of the setbacks of current technology.

Scientists at the Victoria University of Wellington created a sensor that can screen for low levels of estrogen in liquids by sending an electrical signal when it detects the hormone. The device works by attracting small pieces of DNA called aptamers, which latch onto estrogen molecules, to carbon nanotubes. The nanotube devices act like transistors, emitting an electric signal if estrogen molecules are present.

Researchers tested two lengths of the device, one that was 35 units long and another that was 75 units long, in a buffer that's similar to biological fluid. They found that the shorter device produced an electrical signal, flagging the presence of estrogen.

Natalie Plank

The longer device did not trigger an electrical signal, but that's probably because the tool's surface makes it more difficult for aptamers to "catch" estrogen molecules and produce a current, researchers said in a statement. Scientists published their findings in a recent issue of the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology B.

The device could offer an advantage over traditional screening methods, as it includes a simple design, gives real-time readings, uses very little power and could be incorporated into an electronic monitoring system, scientists said in a statement.

Next up, the team plans to test its tool in an actual biological fluid, like urine. And the scientists are eyeing different applications for their technology, considering using the device to screen for more than just estrogen.

"Aptamers are a potentially powerful tool for sensors because they are so versatile and selective," Natalie Plank, a researcher at Victoria University, said in a statement, and the team could eventually create a device that pinpoints other molecules and offers more diagnostic information.

- read the statement
- here's the abstract from the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology B

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