Amal Alachkar’s Research Team Develops “Lab-In-A-Syringe” for the Instant and Real-Time Detection of Dopamine

Amal Alachkar

A study led by researchers at the UC Irvine School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences prompted the invention of a new biosensor with capabilities to detect dopamine instantly in the brain in freely behaving mice.

Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that has a role in many neurological and psychiatric disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, depression, addiction, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“The real-time onsite monitoring capability of our device is very critical for many applications that require tracking the spatiotemporal changes of dopamine levels in live animals while performing specific tasks such as movement, socialization, learning, or self-administration of drugs,” said Amal Alachkar, UCI Associate Professor of Teaching in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and co-corresponding author of the study. “Moreover, our syringe type design is capable to return measured sample back to the brain, which means not losing any volume of the sample.”

The “Lab-In-A-Syringe” device is described in a paper published January 10, 2022, in the journal ACS Sensors. In addition to Alachkar, the research team included senior author Mehmet Senel, a visiting professor of biochemistry and analytical chemistry in the UCI School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Sammy Alhassen, a UCI graduate student in pharmaceutical sciences.

The UCI researchers developed a simple microfluidic device which, when coupled with an electrochemical reader, addresses many of the recurring experimental challenges associated with low sample volume.

“Our syringe-type sensing device invention is the first that is able to do both biofluid sampling and analysis simultaneously,” Senel said. “The sample volume is as low as half microliter. The microfluidic device is also simple in structure and low in cost.”

The development methods of the UCI research team make it easier to fabricate microfluidic electrochemical sensing devices in the form of a syringe that can measure on-site and in real-time.

“Now we will be able to design different types of biosensors for different neurotransmitters and neurometabolites such as serotonin, glutamate, gamma-Aminobutyric acid, and acetylcholine as related to different diseases,” Alachkar said.

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