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Nanotechnology Animations: Cantilevers

Nanoscale CantileversReference: Arun Majumdar, University of California at Berkeley

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Nanoscale cantilevers - microscopic, flexible beams resembling a row of diving boards - are built using semiconductor lithographic techniques. These can be coated with molecules capable of binding specific substrates-DNA complementary to a specific gene sequence, for example. Such micron-sized devices, comprising many nanometer-sized cantilevers, can detect single molecules of DNA or protein.

As a cancer cell secretes its molecular products, the antibodies coated on the cantilever fingers selectively bind to these secreted proteins. These antibodies have been designed to pick up one or more different, specific molecular expressions from a cancer cell. The physical properties of the cantilevers change as a result of the binding event. Researchers can read this change in real time and provide not only information about the presence and the absence but also the concentration of different molecular expressions.

Nanoscale cantilevers, constructed as part of a larger diagnostic device, can provide rapid and sensitive detection of cancer-related molecules.