Our research is focused on developing novel bioanalytical tools that allow us to address meaningful biological and chemical questions, leading to better management of devastating diseases such as cancer. Specifically, we are interested in interfacing bioanalytical chemistry with DNA nanotechnology to fabricate tools for 1) diseases diagnosis at point-of-care settings; 2) dynamic monitoring key nucleic acids and proteins in various biochemical processes; and 3) addressing fundamental questions in nucleic acid chemistry and DNA nanotechnology.
1) Development of novel signal generation and amplification mechanisms for ultrasensitive detection of biomolecules and for cell imaging: Signal generation and amplification is the key to the development of various biosensors, imaging probes, and molecular tools for applications raging from fundamental research, to personalized healthcare, to food safety, and to environmental monitoring. We aim to develop novel signal generation/amplification mechanisms by integrating nucleic acid chemistry, molecular engineering, nanomaterials, and DNA nanotechnology.
2) Novel techniques for point-of-care disease diagnostics: Early screening and diagnosis of cancer at the asymptomatic stage has demonstrable benefits on survival and response to therapeutics. However, major cancer biomarkers including circulating tumor cells, nucleic acids, and proteins are present only in trace levels in human blood samples, making them extremely challenging to be accurately identified and quantified. This is especially true for protein biomarkers, because unlike nucleic acids, proteins cannot be readily amplified by techniques like PCR. Therefore, it is highly desirable to develop sensitive tools to detect trace levels of protein cancer biomarkers from human blood samples. We aim to develop a set of protein sensors potentially useful for point-of-care cancer diagnosis.
3) Fundamentals in nucleic acid chemistry and DNA nanotechnology: We are also interested in investigating new principles and strategies in DNA nanotechnology and their applications to nucleic acid chemistry, DNA computing, and biosensor fabrications. For example, we have recently integrated affinity motifs (termed as binding-induced DNA strand displacement) and allostery (termed as allosteric DNA toehold) into DNA strand displacement networks to expand the applicability and flexibility of current dynamic DNA nanotechnology.