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GANANO Report Summary

Project ID: 505641
Funded under: FP6-NMP
Country: Germany

Final Report Summary - GANANO (New Generation of GaN-based sensor arrays for nano- and pico-fluidic systems for fast and reliable biomedical testing)

Hospitals and medical laboratories have to analyse thousands of tiny samples on a daily basis. This is ideally carried out quickly, efficiently and with a high degree of sensitivity, enabling early detection of conditions such as AIDS, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and cancer. Rapid diagnosis can save lives, improve a patient's quality of life and also reduce medical treatment costs.

The objective of the project was to construct the first instrument based on gallium nitride (GaN) devices to address this need. GaN and its related alloys are well-suited to this task, and unlike the gallium arsenide (GaAs) and indium phosphide (InP) families they can form the basis chemical sensors that are not degraded by various samples, including those that are acidic and alkaline. The following results and deliverables were achieved by the members of the consortium and the effect of an excellent cooperation. These sensors, which are the key part of the instrument, analyse the chemical properties of nanolitre and picolitre samples that are brought into contact with the device's surface. The devices - essentially transistors with an eliminated top gate or a modified active gate area - can detect dipoles, polar liquids, changes in ion concentration, and cell activity, because this alters the device's surface potential and leads to a change in current flowing through the underlying two-dimensional electron gas (2DEG).

The project could tailor its sensors so that they only respond to a particular type of substance by applying specific membranes to the gate area that are made from either biological cells or artificial materials. For example, members of the University of Crete and the Foundation of Research and Technology Hellas modified the project detectors to be sensitive to potassium by covering the gate region with a polyvinyl chloride membrane, which is doped with valinomycin, a large molecule made from amino acids.

Applying different types of organic membrane to the project devices allowed the team to produce sensors that are selective to other important cations such as ammonium, and sodium, and also to anions such as nitrate and chloride. In each case the signal from the sensor is caused by the potential difference at the interface between the membrane and the aqueous solution that is created by the reaction between the ion carrier and the analyte ion. Experiments at the Technical University of Munich showed that immobilised enzymes such as penicillinase can be applied to the sensor's surface, which alter the device's selectivity and sensitivity. Project work with cations, anions and enzymes illustrated the great potential of GaN-based sensors. Detection with these devices can be extended to different biological systems by adapting the surface and the sensor, enabling a series of different sensors to be fabricated that form the basis for a multifunctional sensor array.

The indirect economic impact resulted in potential cost savings to be realized via reduction of medical cost treatment due to early detection of certain disease associated proteins and pathogens, shorter time-to-market for new pharmaceuticals, and higher efficiency of sampling of large numbers of very small samples (nano- and pico-droplets). Finally, additional economic benefits were generated through application of the smaller, cheaper, and portable versions of the system for faster, more efficient, and statistically more reliable sampling of water quality in commercial aircraft as well as participation of large industrial partners (AJ and EADS) significantly increased the potential for efficient commercial exploitation of project results. With already well-established commercial partners, high-capacity production facilities, and distribution systems, these partners assured shorter time to market and broader market reach for the commercialised products.

The first commercial product of AJ in this field was the pipetting robot "FasTrans" which allows for flexible pipetting in the volume range 0.5 microlitre to 30 microlitre using traditional positive displacement techniques. The device was used for the preparation of microplates for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays and can be equipped with different pipetting heads having 1, 3 or 6 pipetting channels.

AJ planned to extend the volume range to the nanolitre scale which is only possible by using piezoelectric dispensers. Such elements were produced by the contractor TUI and are part of the integrated system. Future projects between AJ and TUI could use this dispensing technology as the basis of an ongoing cooperation.

Outside of the biomedical sector, the multifunctional system has potential applications in the environmental sector. While no market research data were compiled, additional revenue could clearly be generated in, for instance, the area of water quality sampling.

One possible application is testing of on-board water supply in aircraft prior to their release for operations. Currently this process is very complicated and time consuming. Implementation of the lab on-a-chip system potentially represents significant cost savings resulting from faster commissioning of aircraft into service. The new approach of GaN-based integrated optical and electronic sensor technology and measurement methods also offers possibility for onboard water quality control reducing health risks associated with the microbiologically contaminated water. Broader water quality related applications can be foreseen provided the production costs of a simplified system can decrease considerably (by a factor of 3-5). Such potential applications include trains, boats, ships, swimming pools, etc.

Furthermore the system can be applied to water quality instrumentation installed for security purposes and for wider monitoring of water quality in distribution by the utilities. Results of the GANANO project related to lab-on-chip systems for drinking water control will be further used, developed and exploited towards market by EADS.

The most promising field of TopGaN lasers application is detection of nitrogen oxides (NOx), gases emitted by ill humans and animals, rotting fruits and vegetables, many explosive materials as well by polluting wastes and manufacturers. The NOx sensors were developed by the Technical Military University (WAT) in Poland using the light source (laser diode) developed within GANANO project. It was expected that the commercialisation of the sensors would be achieved at the end of 2007. The detection limit of NOx would be of a fraction of ppb, more than an order of magnitude lower than using much more expensive and heavier instruments. It is worth to mention that TopGaN laser diodes for this application (pulsed mode operation with ultra high power during the pulse) had the best-world parameters.

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