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					P R O F I L E S F R O M T H E F R O N T I E R S O F R E S E A R C H A N D I N N O VAT I O N I N O N TA R I O

    Ideas on the Edge
                                    Diagnosis on the Dot
                          Q U A N T U M D O T S A R E R E A L LY, R E A L LY S M A L L .
                T H E Y ’ L L M A K E A R E A L LY B I G D I F F E R E N C E I N D I A G N O S I S .

They’re unimaginably tiny,                                                             fabrication, dots can be “tuned”
oddly behaved — and incredibly                                                         to emit a specific colour when
versatile. “Quantum dots” are                                                          excited by light.
artificial assemblages of atoms                                                            This combination of
that are revolutionizing fields                                                        diminutive size and “tunability”
as diverse as biology, medicine,                                                       has made these particles very
computing and power generation.                                                        useful as optical “biosensors” —
    Depending on its structure,                                                        beacons that light up to indicate
a quantum dot can be as small                                                          the presence of even the tiniest
as 20 atoms across, or about 2                                                         amounts of a particular sub-
billionths of a meter. “You’re                                                         stance — a virus, for example, or
getting down to molecular                                                              a marker for a type of cancer.
dimensions in size,” explains                                                          Scientists accomplish this magic
Dr. Ulli Krull of the University                                                       by wrapping a quantum dot
of Toronto at Mississauga.                                                             with a layer designed to bond
“And when you do that you get                                                          chemically with the target
some interesting properties                                                            substance, and by adding a
that you don’t see at the level                                                        biological switch that disables
of the everyday world.”                                                                the light-emitting capability of
    One of those properties                                                            the dot unless this bonding has
involves the way quantum dots                                                          taken place. Once the target
respond to light. In the world of                                                      substance bonds to the particle,
our everyday experience, the                                                           however, the modified dot
colour of light that objects                                                           glows with a distinctive colour
reflect or emit is based on what                                                       when it’s exposed to light.
they’re made of. But at scales                                                             These biosensors could, in
involving billionths of a metre,    Ulli Krull holds a beaker containing models of     theory, be released in quantity
we enter the unintuitive realm      quantum dots, the nano-particles that are a        into the body to find and then
                                    focus of research at the Centre for Advanced
of quantum effects. When you                                                           illuminate their quarry. But it’s
                                    Biosciences and Biotechnology.
shine a light on a quantum dot,                                                        difficult to read the light of the
the colour of light that comes back is determined by the     beacons accurately through layers of tissue and fluid.
dot’s size. And since the size can be precisely set during       Dr. Krull is also looking at a solution to this problem.
 At UTM’s Centre for Applied Biosciences and                                    CABB: Very advanced. Very applied.
 Biotechnology — a facility funded partially through an                         The range of advanced research at the Centre for Applied
 investment by the Ontario Innovation Trust — he’s                              Biosciences and Biotechnology is astonishing.

               developing a way to attach the nanoscale                               Ask Ulli Krull, the principal investigator at CABB, for a
                                                                                list of highlights, and he hardly knows where to begin.
                          sensor particles to the outer surface
                                                                                Researchers at the Mississauga facility are looking at an
                             of a fibre optic probe. The probe
                                                                                amazing range of subjects, from biosensors to the
                                  can be inserted into a sample —
                                                                                development of designer polymers to an exploration of
                                    and perhaps one day, into a                 the frontier that links psychology and genetics.
                                    human body. Light pumped                          “The faculty represent a variety of fields, including
                                     into the fibre will cause the              physics, chemistry, psychology and a number of other

 University                                       beacon dots to                areas,” he says. “The intention was to provide the
 of Toronto                                       glow if the target
                                                                                infrastructure so that this group could work together and
 at Mississauga                                                                 really explore what could be done in a cross-disciplinary
                                               substance is present,
                                        and the same fibre carries
                                                                                      But as advanced as the research is, Dr. Krull is particu-
 their tell-tale colour back to the observer.                                   larly proud of how the Centre is applying its expertise in
      By covering the probes with a variety of sensor par-                      partnership with the surrounding community. “What
 ticles designed to detect different substances, they could                     we’ve done is taken the resources of the CABB facility

 be very versatile tools for diagnosing a range of illnesses                    and made them available as the research arm of the City
                                                                                of Mississauga. We work with the city on the development
 at their earliest stages. Two other big advantages: the
                                                                                and delivery of its practices, in terms of anything that has
 results would be available in minutes, and the probes
                                                                                to do with health and the environment.”
 would be reusable. Neither is the case with current
                                                                                      The partnership between the city and the university
                                          methods of lab testing.               has been so successful that the World Health Organization

  • fast, early diagnosis of
                                               The technology has               has dubbed it the “Mississauga Model” and is touting it
    illness                               many other applications               as an example for cities and institutions everywhere.
  • detection and prevention              as well, including testing
    of environmental pollution
                                          for pathogens in food           see some very exciting technical and chemical advances.
  • improvement of the
    reliability and quality of            and water, and for                   “That’s what turns me on. We’re at the stage now of
    water and food
                                          environmental pollution.        being about to harness those properties.”
 While it will be a few years before these kinds of probes
                                                                          Project: Centre for Applied Biosciences and Biotechnology
 are in daily use, Dr. Krull can see them on the horizon —                Institution: University of Toronto at Mississauga
                                                                          Research Discipline: Health Sciences/Diseases
 and he’s excited.                                                        Principal Investigator: Ulrich Krull
      “There are all these things going on at the molecular               Trust Investment: $2,358,983
                                                                          CFI Investment: $2,358,983
 level, and as we learn to harness them, we’re going to                   Total research investment from all sources: $5,982,000

                                          Infrastructure for Innovation
                                          About the Ontario Innovation Trust
                                          The Ontario Innovation Trust was created in 1999 by the Government of Ontario to invest in
                                          research equipment and facilities at Ontario’s universities, colleges, hospitals and other non-
                                          profit research institutions. The Trust is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors, according
                                          to the terms of a Trust agreement established by the Ontario government. A small permanent
MaRS Centre, Heritage Building            staff looks after day-to-day operations.
101 College Street, Suite HL 20
                                                Since its inception, the Trust has committed almost $843 million to strengthen Ontario’s
     Toronto, ON M5G 1L7
416-977-9188 Fax: 416-977-9460            position in the global marketplace of ideas. This represents more than a third of the                     $2.44 billion in total funding that has been invested in Trust-supported projects.