Category: Science

Unofficial Review: An electrochemical biosensor for the detection of epithelial-mesenchymal transition

If you know me quite well, you’d know that I have a particular interest in the field of bio-imaging and sensing systems. I enjoy reading about the development and refinement of biosensor systems every now and then, because this field never ceases to surprise me.

Recently, I have stumbled upon an interesting paper. As the title suggests, this paper described a new electrochemical sensing approach using gold nanoparticles (AuNP) and quantum dots (QD) to detect the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) using E-cadherin (a cell-cell adhesion protein) as the biomarker, which is a novel application.

The process of EMT, simply put, is when epithelial cells lose their polarity and adhesion, which grants them migratory and invasive properties to become mesenchymal cells. The detection of such process can be crucial in the diagnosis of cancer progression and metastasis, although other processes like tissue regeneration and embryogenesis has its applications too (Kalluri, Weinberg, 2009).

This paper anchors on the foundation of which E-cadherin is downregulated during EMT initiation. Therefore, when EMT initiates, the reading of the system should drop as compared to normal cells. The ‘reading’ here is done through utilization of E-cadherin antibody-QD (E-cad-Ab-QD) and carbon nanotube-gold nanoparticle (CNT-AuNP) as the detection platform (Du et al., 2020). The modified antibody will bind to E-cadherin, and the interaction between the QD on the antibody and the electrode detection platform will generate a current.

The logic here is simple: With a reduced E-cadherin on the surface of an EMT cell, the current generated from the QD-electrode interaction will decrease. When comparing to the normal cell reading, there would be a clear difference in the current generated. Hence, the process of EMT could be deduced from that. This is demonstrated from the figure shown below, of which I took from the paper.

Electrochemical sensing using nanoparticles and quantum dots have been intensively reported lately, and this paper is just one of the novel applications of this system. In my opinion, there are great potentials in this field of research, and in the current stage there are still refinements to be made. If quantum dots can be conjugated to any antibody, perhaps there is a possibility for detection of any type of proteins following the same methodology mentioned in this paper. It will be interesting if this process can be standardized and maybe one day we can achieve a faster and more accurate electrochemical detection system.

(Du et al., 2020)




Du, X., Zhang, Z., Zheng, X., Zhang, H., Dong, D., Zhang, Z., Liu, M. & Zhou, J. 2020, An electrochemical biosensor for the detection of epithelial-mesenchymal transition, Springer Science and Business Media LLC.

Kalluri, R. & Weinberg, R.A. 2009, “The basics of epithelial-mesenchymal transition”, The Journal of clinical investigation, vol. 119, no. 6, pp. 1420-1428.

Book Review: “The Dance of Life” by Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz & Roger Highfield

“The Dance of Life” was a book I borrowed from my brother, who caught interest in the book after he came in contact with Professor Magda. Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz is a professor of Mammalian Development and Stem Cell Biology in the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience and Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Her researches focus on the early developmental stages of embryonic cells. In the book, she centers around the idea of “Symmetry Breaking” and “Cell Fate Acquisition”, which comprises the molecular and cellular mechanisms that guide cell lineages and patterning. I am a biochemist, which means I understood the molecular mechanisms but not so much the embryology part (for this I actually had several meaningful discussions with my brother who has more knowledge in this field). My expectations from this book was initially to understand more about stem cell biology and embryology. However, my expectation was exceeded overwhelmingly. 

This book isn’t simply a collection of scientific researches. In fact it is so much more than that. Professor Magda takes her readers on an adventure of her life, describing several experiences that had inspired her researches and introducing many respectable scientists she had the privilege to work with. She also provided valuable insights on the prospects of being a research scientist, pointing out the sacrifices and difficult choices she had to make for science. Towards the ending of the book, she took the chance to express the underlying double standards of gender in science, which is preventing accurate credibility and productivity. Although I can’t say I am an expert of embryology after reading the book, I am somewhat confident to say I do understand a little bit more as compared to when I first started reading. Nonetheless, the treasure I have found in this book wasn’t the scientific knowledge, but the stories of the difficulties she had to face as a researcher. 

I have learned that doing research means there is a constant pressure of producing groundbreaking ideas and finding funding to execute it. Even after there are results, the idea may face several denials from referees of various journals requesting for more evidences (that means doing more repeats or designing new experiments). On top of all this, the science community may debate upon the credibility of the paper after publication and mixed reviews may fall upon it. It takes decades for a new theory/idea in science to be accepted. It’s an ongoing battlefield on its own. I have told people I want to do research in the future as a discipline of science, but never have I considered these challenges this book had taught me. 

As a more practical influence, several works she had brought up in this book became my scientific inspirations, and one of these works is actually going to be in my upcoming presentation assessment next week. This was a remarkable paper, because it was the first time gene editing was used as a tool to study gene function in human embryonic development (PMID: 28953884). I found this perfect because the essay title I have chosen was “Discuss the process and implications of gene editing in humans”. It won’t be a detailed presentation on the paper as it will only be 5 minutes, but I am still thrilled to share what I learned from this research with my tutorial group. 

I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in science, and I would urge scientists in any relevant field to read this book. 

(This book my brother got had her signature in it!)