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Dr. Tuan Vo-Dinh: Nanotechnology to Fight Diseases

by Editor1 last modified April 18, 2007 - 22:27

As director of Duke University’s Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics, Dr. Tuan Vo-Dinh is currently investigating how nanoprobes can be used to understand human cancers. He is one of the pioneers of nano-biosensors, and is now the author of the just-released "Nanotechnology in Biology and Medicine: Methods, Devices, and Applications," a 790-page reference book that gathers submissions from dozens of pioneers in the fields of nanomdecine and nanobiosensors to provide a readers a state-of-the-art discussion of how nanobiology and nano-device sciences are coming together to detect, monitor and fight disease, including cancer.


The text focuses on the design of novel bio-inspired materials, particularly for tissue engineering applications. Each chapter provides introductory material including a description of methods, protocols, instrumentation, and applications, as well as a collection of published data with an extensive list of references.

An authoritative reference written for a broad audience, "Nanotechnology in Biology and Medicine: Methods, Devices, and Applications" provides a comprehensive forum that integrates interdisciplinary research to present the most recent advances in protocols, methods, instrumentation, and applications of nanotechnology in biology and medicine.

Dr. Vo-Dinh’s Work in NanoBioSensors

His research, though, stretches as far back as the mid-1980s, when he was an early pioneer and major player in the field of nano biotechnology.

With his initial research, Dr. Vo-Dinh was among the first to design a nanobiosensor to detect how surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) technology can directly detect chemical and biological species, such as environmental pollutants, pathogenic agents, and biomarkers of disease.

“About a decade ago, one of my previous co-workers, Jean-Pierre Alarie, and I developed the first nanobiosensor with an antibody probe for the detection of a cancer-causing agent, benzo[a]pyrene (BaP). In a sense, we were already going nano when nano wasn’t cool,” explains Dr. Vo-Dinh.

He continues, “More recently, my graduate student (and later postdoc), Paul Kasili, and I completed the development of a nanobiosensor capable of detecting in real time a molecular signaling process in a single human cell following treatment with an anticancer drug. … Nanobiosensor technology could provide the ultimate tool capable of probing the nanometer world and will make it possible to characterize the chemical and mechanical properties of cells, discover novel phenomena and processes, and provide science with a wide range of tools, materials, devices, and systems with unique characteristics.”

Currently, Dr. Vo-Dinh is exploring the use of nanosensors to investigate human cancers, more specifically, the molecular pathways in single cells exposed to carcinogenic chemicals or oxidative stress. Another area of interest for him is the development of a new type of plasmonic nanoprobe called molecular sentinels. So far, Dr. Vo-Dinh has been involved in the proof-of-principle demonstration of using these probes to detect HIV gene sequence. He is also collaborating with a clinical colleague, Dr. Victoria Seewaldt, to investigate the possibility of using a molecular sentinel to detect early breast cancer.

Even as Dr. Vo-Dinh has played a huge role in enabling nanotechnology to revolutionize molecular biology, he says he would like nanobiology to be more actively applied beyond the lab to treatment areas of nanomedicine. He calls this transition from research and devices to clinical applications, “from bench to bedside.”

Dr. Vo-Dinh describes his interest in bringing together the disciplines of nanotechnology, biology, and other sciences in compelling terms: “I believe that the combination of nanotechnology, biology, and photonics opens the possibility of detecting and manipulating atoms and molecules using nano devices, which have the potential for a wide variety of medical uses at the cellular level. … These interactions have opened the doors to many potential applications, of the nanotechnology-based methods and instruments we developed to applications, of great medical relevance. Having the ability to work with clinical colleagues and seeing the potential outcome of the research that could improve human health is very inspiring.”