Progress made in the technology development for studying protein-DNA interactions, conducted by Chang Lu, associate professor of chemical engineering and a core faculty member of the School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences at Virginia Tech, has led to the National Institutes of Health awarding a new project to continue his groundbreaking work.

Working with Albert Baldwin, a cancer biologist of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, they are advancing the development of a specific technology that Lu said could "revolutionize the study of molecular mechanisms involved in cancer development in multiple aspects."  

Lu and Baldwin are using an investigative procedure called chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) to examine the protein binding to DNA sites that can lead to cancer.

This ChIP assay is not new. In the past, its drawback was the number of cells needed for each individual test -- more than 1 million cells. "This large sample practically prevents the use of ChIP on samples from animal models and patients," Lu explained.

So, Lu and Baldwin are developing a more specialized ChIP assay conducted on microchip devices for studies based on tiny amounts of primary cell samples from mice and humans. Lu's preliminary work showed they could produce reliable results based on as few as 50 cells as opposed to the need for one million cells. This work was previously described in the journal, Lab on a Chip.

With their new test that provides "an ultrahigh sensitivity," they believe they can design ChIP assays that will be able to study tumor-initiating cells and monitor the dynamics at the molecular level in how the tumor cells multiply, possibly leading to the spread of cancer.

Lu is known for making significant contributions to the practice of cellular manipulation and analysis. His research group at Virginia Tech  has demonstrated a variety of new technologies ranging from electroporation for gene delivery to analysis of single cells.

His new NIH grant, awarded over three years at a total amount of $710,000, is part of the institutes' National Cancer Initiative that focuses on early-stage innovative molecular analysis technology (IMAT) development for cancer research. The new work was also enabled by seed grants from the Virginia Tech Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science NanoBio Thrust area.

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