Leburton's bio-sensing breakthrough published in Nature


Ryann Monahan, Illinois ECE

Jean-Pierre Leburton
Jean-Pierre Leburton

An innovative work by Illinois ECE Professor Jean-Pierre Leburton, Gregory Stillman Professor Electrical and Computer Engineering, and his team offers a novel approach to follow and investigate the evolution of unrepaired breaks in DNA strands - potentially detecting, and preventing disease, more effectively. The research was recently published in Nature.

The research team’s findings show their methodology of electronic bio-sensing with nanopores in a few atoms thick or two-dimensional (2D) semiconducting membranes will be an efficient and precise way to detect breaks or so-called “nicks” appearing on one of the backbones or strands of the DNA double helix. 

On average 70,000 breaks per day appear in each human cell, but they are naturally and continuously repaired. However, break multiplication beyond repair may happen, which leads to a large diversity of diseases ranging from various types of cancers to neurologic pathologies. 

Current biochemical techniques to detect these breaks are performed on a large number of DNA molecules to extract statistics of their occurrence such as their types and frequencies. 

“Our methodology enables direct sensing of individual breaks, which will be more precise, thereby provide new approaches to monitor and investigate their evolution on the DNA strand,” Leburton said. 

The breakthrough will impact not only the field of biology and nanomedicine, but large data manipulation with applications in information processing and storage. It will also offer new opportunities in personal medicine- reducing the need for large and costly laboratories and increasing access.  

“On the one hand, our bio-sensing methodology based on the use of semiconductor nanotechnology provides revolutionary opportunities to bypass the utilization of big and costly labs by miniaturizing the detection process and making it available to individuals for use in personal medicine,” Leburton explained. “Indeed, industrial DNA carrying billions of nucleotides can be artificially written with “nicks” along the double strands to store bits of information that our approach can access individually to be read quickly and efficiently.”

Leburton’s full article published in Nature (NPJ 2D Materials and Applications) can be found online here

This research was funded by the Gregory Stillman Professorship of Jean-Pierre Leburton and DARPA. 

Jean-Pierre Leburton is also affiliated with the Nick Holonyak Jr. Micro-Nano Technology Laboratory and the Department of Physics in The Grainger College of Engineering.