W.M. Keck Foundation grant advances study of biocompatible liquid crystals

10/10/05

Scientists at Kent State University are poised to take biological research to a new level, thanks to a grant of $860,000 from the W. M. Keck Foundation, a recognized pioneer in supporting leading-edge advancements in medical research, science and engineering. This is the third endorsement by the Keck Foundation received by Kent State and will be directed to the study of a new class of matter that bridges biological and liquid crystal research--biocompatible liquid crystals.

The multi-disciplinary study, conducted by the Department of Biological Sciences in collaboration with the Glenn H. Brown Liquid Crystal Institute (LCI), focuses on biological applications of lyotropic chromonic liquid crystals (LCLCs), which, unlike the liquid crystals used in displays, are compatible with living cells. The study of LCLCs started with the goal of developing new types of optical elements such as polarizing and compensating films. Recent advances could result in further development of new technologies such as biological sensors and drug delivery systems.

The funded area of study builds upon the works of Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Dr. Christopher Woolverton and Dr. Oleg Lavrentovich, LCI director and professor of chemical physics. Woolverton and Lavrentovich have been collaborating on the use of LCLCs for the last few years, publishing and presenting their results internationally. The Keck Foundation funds will make possible the purchase of a suite of equipment essential for a deeper study of this versatile class of liquid crystals. The equipment will permit Woolverton, Lavrentovich and their students to examine nanometer scale interactions between LCLC living cells, DNA and proteins, to reveal new information about biological systems that have liquid crystalline properties.

"Liquid crystals represent the fourth phase of matter," said Woolverton. "The Keck Foundation grant will facilitate research on the physical and chemical properties of LCLCs, a crucial first step in understanding the liquid crystalline nature of biological systems and designing LCLC materials with predictable and controllable properties."

Because of their compatibility with living cells, LCLCs can be used to detect harmful pathogens and microbes of the kind used in biological warfare. Woolverton and Lavrentovich already have translated bench research into prototyped devices for real-time microbial detection. Their ongoing efforts also have produced applications where LCLCs are used for controlled drug delivery and reporting agents of certain biological activities.

Serious scientific inquiry evaluating the relationship between liquid crystal properties and biological function began in the 1970s but was abandoned in favor of emerging research and economic opportunities presented by liquid crystal displays and their technologies.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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