Nephrologist Ying Maggie Chen and Bio-Engineer Srikanth Singamaneni Receive OVCR Grant to Develop Bio-needle Technology to Detect AKI Biomarkers

Ying Maggie Chen and Srikanth Singamaneni collaborate on developing device to painlessly detect acute kidney injury (AKI) biomarkers in children.

A new, minimally-invasive bio-diagnostic device may replace painful blood collection techniques used to detect acute kidney injury (AKI) biomarkers in children in the future.

WashU collaborators, nephrologist Ying Maggie Chen, MD, PhD, and bio-engineer Srikanth Singamaneni, PhD, have received a grant from the OVCR (Office of Vice Chancellor for Research) Seed Grant Program to study AKI biomarkers in dermal interstitial fluid (ISF).  Their project is titled “Ultrasensitive Nanosensor-Enhanced Microneedle Patch for Minimally-Invasive Detection of Biomarkers in Pediatric AKI.”  

The OVCR Seed Grant Program funds interdisciplinary teams collaborating on new and innovative research that has potential for broad scientific or societal impact.  Chen and Singamaneni’s “proof-of-concept” study may revolutionize the pediatric diagnostics from invasive blood draw-based to painless, minimally invasive, continuous, and highly sensitive ISF-based assays.

Dr. Singamaneni describes his research as being at the “intersection of biological and plasmonic nanomaterials.”  His laboratory focuses on the design, synthesis, and self-assembly of plasmonic nanostructures for various biomedical and energy applications.  Singamaneni, Lilyan & E. Lisle Hughes Professor, McKelvey School of Engineering, invented the plasmonic fluor (PF) nanoconstruct, which allows detection of low abundance biomarkers and is used as an application in the current study.  Physician-scientist Chen, Associate Professor in the Division of Nephrology, is a nephrotic syndrome specialist who treats rare, protein-spilling kidney diseases.  Her laboratory investigates the pathogenesis of organelle dysfunction-induced kidney diseases, discovers novel endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress biomarkers, and develops highly-targeted therapies by employing high-throughput drug screening.  

“The current bio-diagnostic platform to study AKI biomarkers in children requires that blood be drawn by a heel prick in newborns and infants or by venipuncture in a child,” says Chen.  “This invasive procedure is limited by the need for expert training, pain and apprehension associated with blood draws, the collection of small blood volumes that may not be sufficient for checking a panel of AKI biomarkers, and difficulty of continuous monitoring.”

As an alternate to the blood-based protocol, the newly invented, ultrasensitive and minimally invasive diagnostic technology uses a plasmonic-fluor enabled microneedle (PF-MN) patch that is applied to the skin to detect AKI biomarkers in the ISF.

“The objective of this application is to realize early, sensitive, frequent and noninvasive detection of AKI biomarkers, which can profile tubular injury and location, inflammation, and repair,” says Chen.

Singamaneni points out that “if successful, this proof-of-concept study can be easily extended to various other pathological conditions, ultimately enabling powerful point-of-care and at-home biodiagnostics.”  

Chen and Singamaneni have collaborated previously.  Their study, published in 2021 in American Journal of Physiology – Renal Physiology, used a PF nanosensor that significantly boosts detection and quantification of low-abundance molecular biomarkers in urine to study an underdiagnosed cause of kidney disease.  See more here.

Please visit the Y. Maggie Chen Lab and the Singamaneni Lab websites to learn more about their exciting research. 

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