The progression of a cell from normal function to the unchecked replication observed in malignant cancers can be caused by environmental agents that damage cellular DNA. Enzymes which repair the human genetic code continuously battle against mutations. It is estimated that just one of the evolved repair mechanisms participates in 20,000 repair excisions per cell, per day. Unfortunately, these repair mechanisms are not perfect and failure can lead to cancer. What is needed is not only a method for finding and studying these mutations, but a method that can work on a single DNA level.
Working with scientists from the National Institutes of Technology, RMD is developing a new hybrid microscope that combines atomic force microscopy with Raman spectroscopy. This new technique, called tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy enables sequencing of DNA on the single molecule level including the localization of epigenetic mutations in the DNA sequence. This technology is on the cutting edge of light microscopy techniques, enabling sequence resolution 200 times greater than that which can be obtained by conventional light microscopy. When fully developed this technique promises to become a vital tool in developing the next generation of anti-cancer drugs.
In collaboration with the National Institute of Standards, RMD is developing a TERS-based instrument to sequence single molecules of DNA and to locate the sites of epigenetic mutation.