One day in the not-too-distant future, your doctor likely will be able to dip a pen-sized electronic device in a few drops of blood and provide an instant report on your blood sugar, cholesterol, iron and various other blood chemistry levels. Equally important, an environmental engineer at a toxic waste site undergoing remediation will be able to determine immediately whether it is safe and free of contaminants.
The miniature diagnostic tool that will give such quick results is a biosensor. Simple models for measuring glucose in a diabetic's blood are already commercially available, and similar basic devices soon will be able to analyze a wide variety of industrial and environmental samples.
But developing advanced biosensors is not an easy task. The new biosensors must be reliable, easy to assemble and very accurate. To meet these challenges, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has started the Consortium on Advanced Biosensors, or CAB.
Six companies and one government agency are helping NIST launch the research program. Corporate members of CAB are: Becton Dickinson Advanced Diagnostics, Ciba-Corning Diagnostics, Dow Chemical Co., E.I. duPont de Nemours and Co., Miles Inc. and Ohmicron Corp. The Environmental Protection Agency also has joined the new consortium as an interagency partner.
The consortium's goal is to solve problems that prevent commercialization of many biosensor technologies in American industry. Located at NIST, the consortium can take direct advantage of the institute's scientific expertise and laboratory facilities.
"To meet CAB's goal, the consortium will support generic research projects to solve the common problems biosensor producers face," explains consortium manager Howard Weetall.
CAB's first project is studying ways to eliminate background interference from biosensor signals. In this initial research, scientists are examining how positively and negatively charged proteins bind to a dozen different chemical surfaces.
Consortium members will select future projects and support them through yearly membership fees. Depending on company size, members will contribute $15,000 or $30,000 annually to cover costs of the research program for CAB's first two years.
CAB will not work on the development of specific biosensors for consortium members. However, each member will be entitled to exclusive licenses on patents granted to any technologies developed through the consortium.
For more information on CAB, contact Howard Weetall, leader of NIST's Biosensor Technology Group, A353 Chemistry Building, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-0001, (301) 975-2628.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology is the federal technology agency with the specific mission of helping U.S. industry to strengthen its competitiveness. Through research, services, grants and outreach programs, NIST assists industry in developing, adapting and commercializing technologies that lead to greater productivity, higher quality, and new and improved products and services. NIST is an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department's Technology Administration.