Holograms for molecules

Much can be detected in blood or urine: viral illnesses, metabolic disorders or autoimmune diseases can be diagnosed with laboratory tests, for instance. But such examinations often take a few hours and are quite complex, which is why doctors hand the samples over to specialist laboratories.

Scientists at ETH Zurich and the company Roche have jointly developed a completely new analysis method based on light diffraction on molecules on a small chip. The technique has the potential to revolutionise diagnostics: in future, physicians may be able to perform complex examinations easily and quickly in their own practice.

Directly visible with laser light

As with other established diagnostic procedures, the new method also uses the key-lock principle of molecular recognition: for instance, in order to determine a particular protein dissolved in the blood (the "key"), it must dock on to a suitable antibody (the "lock"). In established immunological test methods, the "key in the lock" is made visible with a second colour-coded key, but this step is no longer necessary in the new process -- the "key in the lock" can be made visible directly with a laser light.

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