Top Scientific Innovations of 2008

The Scientist announced its top ten picks for innovations in the life sciences industry for 2008. According to the report, for six years, the magazine has ranked the top vendors of life science equipment via its Life Science Industry Awards. However, to further recognize the winning inventions, the publication now presents its first top-ten ranking of these innovations for the year 2008. Among them are microfluidics, a confocal instrument, a PET/MRI combined imaging system, and a continuing-focus microscopy instrument, which could come in handy in the cosmetic chemist's lab.

According to The Scientist, a panel of expert judges reviewed the year's offerings and chose the ones likely to have the biggest impact. The winning technologies reportedly will make the scientist's job easier or cheaper, or push research into new frontiers by assisting with visualizing and capturing molecular processes. Some are completely novel while others improve on existing technology, an indication that the field is still growing and developing. Following are a few of the inventions that were noted, for your consideration.

10. Mix and Match Microfluidics. According to The Scientist, microfluidics are big in large-scale automated biopharma work, and while biologists realize microfluidics would be useful, they generally do not have the skill to do the fabrication. However, University of Michigan graduate student Minsoung Rhee has designed a set of disposable components that let researchers create their own lab-on-a-chip. This technology will reportedly help move biological studies to the single-cell level.

9. Optical Lock-in Detection (OLID)-FRET. Gerard Marriott at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and colleagues have devised a FRET technology that reportedly is capable of detecting protein-protein interactions in tissues and mammalian cells that standard FRET technology cannot. The technique, based on a green fluorescent protein (GFP) donor and an acceptor, was altered so that the acceptor could act like a switch in which a unique wavelength of light turns "on" the acceptor at specific times, making the interaction easier to discern.

8. White Laser Confocal Instrument. Confocal imaging approaches have generally been limited by the number of excitation laser lines available , reports The Scientist. This laser couples excitation spectroscopy to emission spectral analysis, thereby maximizing the utility of multispectral confocal microscopy.

6. PET/MRI Combined Imaging. Simon Cherry at the University of California has combined a small animal imaging system with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). According to The Scientist, its excellent spatial resolution and positron emission tomography (PET) can track radiolabeled tracers. Working with a prototype, researchers are addressing areas such as cancer biomarkers and the group is building a second prototype that is expected to be 25 times more sensitive.

2. Continuous Focus Microscopy. According to The Scientist, focus drift is one of the greatest challenges in high resolution and live cell imaging. In January, Nikon unveiled a solution called the Perfect Focus System (PFS). PFS is a hardware component that reportedly uses a half-moon shaped beam of infrared light to track optical offset and correct for it by sampling every 5 milliseconds. It holds focus both in time-lapse experiments and in short-term studies where acts such as perfusing a drug or moving a Z-stage might shift the sample. Similar systems exist, however, they do not work as well because they sample much less frequently, reports The Scientist.

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