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College of Science and Mathematics

Enhancing lives through learning, discovery and innovation

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Anatomy of a Discovery

Science doesn't always go as planned. Sometimes, it goes better.

Edwin Rainville

Chemistry Professor Andres Martinez and his students developed an inexpensive and portable device for medical tests, the Reagent Pencil. This pencil, which is made of stabilized chemical compounds and deposited on a special piece of chromatography paper, allows users to test for diseases in a drop of urine, saliva or blood. Martinez and his colleagues in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department received a patent for the Reagent Pencil in March 2019. Then …

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… Martinez’s brother, Nathaniel Martinez, who has a background in medical research, joined Cal Poly’s Biological Sciences Department. Together they wondered whether they could expand the applications for these diagnostic devices. When they attempted to chemically modify the cellulose fibers in the chromotogaphy paper to better attach biological reagents …

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… they observed that not only was there a chemical change to the cellulose fibers, but also the whole paper shrank! They used this miniaturization process  to make smaller, more efficient devices. But they hadn’t predicted …

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… that the change in molecular structure of the paper actually created a new material, which they called pDAC, with very interesting properties. For example, this new material behaves like paper when dry but dissolves in certain solutions, which is exciting because their labs are using pDAC to develop a new tool that may help researchers learn how cancerous tumors metastasize. Currently, cell cultures used in cancer research are typically grown on flat, two-dimensional surfaces. Cells grown this way sometimes behave differently than actual tumors, which grow in three dimensions in the body.

With their new discovery, the Martinez labs aim to create free-standing, 3-D tumor models for studying how cancers spread and how they interact with different drugs. The pDAC material is the key to these models, serving as a 3-D scaffold during the initial growth and setup of cells, but then it dissolves over time. The brothers hope that pDAC will soon serve as a laboratory tool for medical researchers to better understand and ultimately treat cancers. Who knows what other discoveries they might make as they test this new tool?


 

 

Read more about Healthy Bodies in Be WellBringing It and Math is Good For You

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