Ultra-high-density 3D DNA arrays within nanoporous biocompatible membranes for single-molecule-level detection and purification of circulating nucleic acids†
Extracellular nucleic acids freely circulating in blood and other physiologic fluids are important biomarkers for non-invasive diagnostics and early detection of cancer and other diseases, yet difficult to detect because they exist in very low concentrations and large volumes. Here we demonstrate a new broad-range sensor platform for ultrasensitive and selective detection of circulating DNA down to the single-molecule level. The biosensor is based on a chemically functionalized nanoporous diamond-like carbon (DLC) coated alumina membrane. The few nanometer-thick, yet perfect and continuous DLC-coating confers the chemical stability and biocompatibility of the sensor, allowing its direct application in biological conditions. The selective detection is based on complementary hybridization of a fluorescently-tagged circulating cancer oncomarker (a 21-mer nucleic acid) with covalently immobilized DNA on the surface of the membrane. The captured DNAs are detected in the nanoporous structure of the sensor using confocal scanning laser microscopy. The flow-through membrane sensor demonstrates broad-range sensitivity, spanning from 1015 molecules per cm2 down to single molecules, which is several orders of magnitude improvement compared to the flat DNA microarrays. Our study suggests that these flow-through type nanoporous sensors represent a new powerful platform for large volume sampling and ultrasensitive detection of different chemical biomarkers.