Fast, Tiny, Bioanalytical Tools for Dynamic Studies of Endocrine Tissue Function
The Easley laboratory is focused on the development of novel microanalytical techniques that allow us to perform unique experiments on biological systems. Our research is focused on developing microfluidic methods and accompanying small-volume biochemical assays to study secretions from small numbers of cells in the form of intact, primary tissue. We are interested in the consequences of cellular architecture and intercellular connections in tissue-level communication, and we study these effects using new microfluidic methods and customized small-volume (picoliter to nanoliter) assays developed by our lab members.
Debilitating conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome are fundamentally linked to the endocrine system, and our laboratory studies two main types of endocrine tissue: pancreatic islets and adipose tissue (fat). Through secretion of insulin, islets have a dominant role in endocrine signaling. Since it is now understood that adipose tissue is an active endocrine organ, we are using our custom microfluidics to capture and measure secretions from both islets and primary adipocytes at high temporal resolution. These methods are helping to improve our currently limited understanding of dynamic small-molecule and hormone secretion from the tissues, the links of secretory function to tissue-level connectivity, and the interplay between the two tissue types.
The second major focus in our lab is to utilize DNA-antibody conjugates and DNA aptamers in cooperative sensing approaches, allowing highly sensitive and selective detection of protein and small molecule analytes from small volumes of sample and with simplified workflow. Depending on the applicaiton, we use various readouts to accomplish the measurements, from standard fluorescence, fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET), custom thermofluorimetric methods (TFA), and electrochemical detection. These unique measurements not only help with sensing on microfluidic devices, but they also are suitable for clinical readouts in human blood.
Overall, research in our laboratory spans several scientific disciplines, from fundamental analytical chemistry, to molecular and cellular biology, and even some electrical circuit and instrument design.