Dr. Markus Sauer of the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the University of Heidelberg has been awarded the Federal Research Ministry's BioFuture Prize. The prize is worth 3 million marks in research monies.
At the Department of Biophysical Chemistry of Heidelberg University's Institute of Physical Chemistry (PCI) new ultrasensitive methods are being developed for the detection, handling and analysis of nucleic acids, proteins and pharmaceutically active substances at the single molecule level. The dual aim of this work is a) better in vivo understanding of the organisation and localisation of various individual cell components with a resolution in the vicinity of a few nanometres ("Deciphering the 3D Architecture of Living Cells") and b) the development of improved methods for direct early detection and monitoring of tumours and bacterial and viral infections in serum samples at the single molecule level. To this end use is made of a detection method developed at the PCI and based on semiconductor technology (small and compact diode lasers as excitation source, avalanche photodiodes as detectors) in combination with new fluorescent probes (multiplex dyes). This method makes it possible to accurately track down single dye-labelled antibodies even in undiluted blood serum samples.
The present development is based on the detection of single fluorescently labelled molecules in solutions first demonstrated in the early 1990s. Single molecule detection offers modern researchers a completely new and greatly improved angle on the microscopic functioning of various biological systems. In this way individual features of various enzymes or inhibitors can be studied directly without the "blurring" attendant upon ensemble measurement. The observation of sub-populations of biological systems makes it possible for the first time to study features of biomolecules microscopically at the single molecule level instead of the macroscopic perspective available hitherto. It may safely be anticipated that this new method will lead to a greatly improved, and in some cases entirely new understanding of the functioning of biological machines.
Whereas most of the previously performed detection work on single molecules has been limited to the description of single molecule detection itself, the PCI in Heidelberg uses the new technology for a variety of applications. Alongside the systematic manipulation of single biological probes in electric fields and submicrometer microchannels, methods are also being developed for the selection of single enzymes and nucleic acids for individual study. In the framework of a number of national and international collaborations the insights thus gained are being used directly for earliest possible detection of various pathogenic substances. The target molecules here are tumour markers (e.g. MUC1 for early detection of breast cancer), antibodies, antigens and certain nucleic acid sequences (HCV, HIV).
Collaborations: Roche Molecular Diagnostics, Prof. K.H. Drexhage (University of Siegen, Germany), Dr. S. Weiss (LBNL, Berkeley), Prof. R.A. Keller (Los Alamos National Laboratories)
Funding for 5 years: DM 3 million
More information on the Internet under http://220.127.116.11
Please address inquiries to:
Dr. Markus Sauer
phone: 06221/548460, fax: 544255
Ph.D. at the Institute of Physical Chemistry, University of Heidelberg, research group Prof. Dr. Jürgen Wolfrum: Development of Efficient Fluorescent Dyes for the Ultrasensitive Detection of Biomolecules Using Time-Resolved LIF Spectroscopy (August 1991 October 1995)
Since November 1995 group leader at the Institute of Physical Chemistry, University of Heidelberg
December 1997: Viktor Meyer Prize of the Faculty of Chemistry, University of Heidelberg, for pioneering work in the field of Time-Resolved Single Molecule Detection
1999: Six-month research sojourn at the LNBL, Berkeley, in the research group of Dr. S. Weiss on Detection of Single Nanocrystals on Surfaces