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Innovation in Molecular Monitoring Technologies

White flowers bloom on a tree in front of the Bell Tower

NC State chemist Leslie Sombers and her collaborators received a 1.8M dollar award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the ‘Commercialization of Enzyme Modified Carbon-Fiber Electrodes Paired with Voltammetry for Simultaneous Real-Time Monitoring of Electroactive and Non-Electroactive Species at Discrete Brain Locations.’

Leslie Sombers
Dr. Leslie Sombers
Department of Chemistry

Commercially available, real-time molecular monitoring technologies are designed to selectively measure only one molecule at a time at a given recording site. This is a problem because chemical signals in the brain do not work in isolation; rather, neurotransmission involves many chemical species simultaneously working to modulate neural circuits. Quantitative analysis of these neurochemical signals is a critical first step when developing therapeutic strategies to treat neurological/psychological disorders, but little is known about how specific neurochemicals fluctuate relative to one another.

The Sombers Lab has established the feasibility of using fast-scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCV) and carbon-fiber microelectrodes for the real-time detection of dopamine fluctuations while simultaneously detecting non-electroactive species, such as glucose and lactate, at the same recording site. The microbiosensors have higher spatial and temporal resolution than currently available technologies, minimal analyte consumption, and they can be easily integrated into existing protocols. 

“During Phase I, a 7-um probe was developed and commercialized that can simultaneously measure dopamine and glucose in real-time, at single micron-scale recording sites in vivo,” Sombers explains. “In Phase II, we will develop and commercialize 7-um dopamine/lactate, dopamine/glutamate, and serotonin/glucose sensors.  We will develop additional tutorials to simplify access to this important technology, and we will continue to develop software and electronics.

Sombers adds: “This work is done in collaboration with Pinnacle Technology Inc. They aim to commercialize our enzyme-modified electrodes. A photo is below.  One of these sensors is much thinner than a human hair – about 20-30% the width of a typical hair.  Looks a bit like a corn dog!  LOL.” 

A carbon-fiber microbiosensor.

Ultimately, this project will provide the community with a sensor suite that can be used to study the interplay of a range of critical analytes in complex physiological processes ranging from basic endocrine function to motivation.

Check the Sombers Lab website for more information on other projects and innovations.

The Sombers Group