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November 28, 2001
Vol. 28, No. 13



A Class Act: Informal Classes marks 30th anniversary

Director of Health & Safety says to exercise caution, but keep things in perspective

UT Press offers scholarly books about Middle East

UT and LULAC develop Austin Youth Leadership Academy

Advancements in disease research, mathematical theory take honors at Siemens competition

$7.2 million grant funds medical research

Marketing professor's research blends expertise in music industry, electronic commerce

New division to enhance teaching effectiveness, learning opportunities

Four teams to compete in MOOT CORP® finals

Eckhardt continues to safeguard campus history six years after his death

Norma Cantú brings expertise into classroom

$2.15 NSF grant to improve production of oil, gas

Research team discovers mechanism regulating plant growth

Engineers harness "quantum dots" for neurological research

Orange Santa program makes season brighter

Readership Survey

Anti-terrorism expert calls for increased steps to combat terrorism

Arete: Jessica J. Summers

School of Social Work gets funding for substance abuse research

A salute to military veterans, POWs, MIAs




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Engineers harness "quantum dots" for neurological research

By Rae Nadler-Olenick
College of Engineering

A team of engineers from The University of Texas at Austin has developed a promising new process for binding tiny semiconductor crystals known as nanocrystals or "quantum dots" to nerve cells. Their technology could lead to advances in biomedical products ranging from hearing aid implants to robotic prosthetics.

quantum dot attaching to neurons
Pictured is the quantum dot attaching to neurons using antibody (A, B) and peptide (C, D) binding techniques. Images B and D show the self-fluorescence of the cell's cytoplasm and the quantum dot luminescence.

Professor of Biomedical Engineering Christine Schmidt, an expert in neuro-cell culture and nerve engineering, and Brian Korgel, a chemical engineering professor whose specialty is growing nanocrystals, report the initial results of their yearlong collaboration in the Nov. 16 issue of Advanced Materials.

Doctoral candidate Jessica Winter performed key research in both professors’ laboratories.

The researchers succeeded in making cadmium sulfide quantum dots about one-four thousandth the width of a human hair in diameter stick one-on-one to human brain neurons, using a short protein chain called a peptide as a tether. That involved modifying what Korgel describes as a "standard chemistry recipe" by substituting the single peptide for two much longer protein antibodies.

Schmidt noted that most work in the realm of biological-electronic interfaces to date has involved comparatively large silicon-based electrodes and larger tissue areas. "Our goal was to gain more molecular specificity, to target specific receptors on the cell surface," she said.

The next challenge will be to establish communication between the biological and non-biological systems. Because the dots are semiconductors, they become active in the presence of an electrical field.

Korgel said the few previous efforts by other research groups to attach quantum dots to human cells have concentrated strictly on silicon-based dots intended for use as inert dyes.

"But we’re working toward putting these quantum dots on nerve cells and then generating local electrical fields that will influence the cells to ‘talk’ to the dots," said Korgel.

Once that kind of communication is achieved, quantum dots eventually could function as the interface between a wide array of new microelectronic biomedical applications, including pioneering prosthetic limbs and the neural cells of the people using them, the researchers said.

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