Molecular chemistry can be a tough discipline. The chemical signals so important to lab work can combine, disperse, or react with other molecules, making it hard to accurately measure how individual signals behave in an environment.
This is where the chemistrode comes in, the brainchild of Rustem Ismagilov, associate professor of chemistry. Inspired by microelectrodes—which measure electrical currents between cells—the chemistrode aims to measure chemical signals.
The chemistrode’s most distinguishing feature is its ability to trap chemicals in tiny droplets of fluid, preventing them from changing form and allowing researchers to store the chemicals for future study.
“It’s his baby,” said Louis Philipson, a professor at the University’s Department of Medicine, who worked with Ismagilov to test the chemistrode’s practical aspects.
Philipson’s lab had been studying insulin secretion in humans for years before Ismagilov and his team approached them. “He wanted to test out this device he had come up with,” Philipson said.
Working together, Ismagilov and Philipson, along with other postdoctoral and graduate researchers in Ismagilov’s lab, set out to use the chemistrode to study the Islets of Langerhans, cells in the pancreas that control insulin production. This collaborative effort produced a coauthored paper in the November edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
With diabetes rates rising in the U.S., this kind of research has become increasingly important—and the chemistrode may go a long way toward furthering the understanding of insulin production mechanisms in humans.
Philipson went on to emphasize the wide range of application of the chemistrode.
“You could put anything you could think of in there,” he said, from neurons in the brain to heart cells.
“At the moment it is strictly for research purposes, and that is where its importance lies,” he said. “But conceivably it might be used for diagnostic use in the future.”
Philipson credited the University with fostering the scientists’ collaborative impulse.
“One of the wonderful things about Chicago is that different departments can get together to work on projects,” he said.
The researchers are currently going through processes to patent their invention.