Luminex xMAP®: Enhanced lab efficiency

Stereotypical depictions of researchers involve crazy hair, oversized goggles, shabby lab coats, and loads of test tubes. While the first three may be exaggerated, the sheer volume of tubes and wells needed in a lab cannot be overstated, especially when the lab is dedicated to anything biological.

One tissue sample can be used for a gamut of tests, all of them attempting to identify something different in it, be they antibodies, DNA, or RNA (biomarkers). Often, many samples are required due to all the tests needed to highlight the variations in those biomarkers. But the size of samples is now decreasing thanks to machines like the Luminex System running xMAP technology.

The Luminex System is a research/clinical diagnostics platform that allows detection of multiple analytes in a single well of a microtiter plate—100 or more reactions using a single drop of fluid.

Multiplex assays are widely used in experiments investigating the characteristics of molecules within a biological sample. This approach can be used to see whether an experimental treatment works, or what changes a DNA mutation causes in the molecules or molecular pathways within cells.

In real terms, this machine allows for analyses to be done to determine whether or not a patient has a particular disease or gene variant in their blood that would prevent a drug from being effective. It also allows them to determine the ideal dosage for those drugs. The machine can also be used to identify and characterise viral infections.

A particular research group at the University of Malta, headed by Prof. Godfrey Grech, has used Luminex xMAP technology to develop novel markers which are allowing them to classify a subset of triple-negative breast cancer

By identifying these biomarkers, it may be possible in future to detect the disease earlier and give patients better-targeted therapy.

Prof. Godfrey Grech and his team of researchers.

Author: Prof. Godfrey Grech

Healing Stone… by infection

Roderick Micallef has a long family history within the construction industry. He coupled this passion with a fascination with science when reading for an undergraduate degree in Biology and Chemistry (University of Malta). To satisfy both loves, he studied the chemical makeup and physical characteristics of Malta’s Globigerina Limestone.

Micallef (supervised by Dr Daniel Vella and Prof. Alfred Vella) evaluated how fire or heat chemically change limestone. Stone heated between 150˚C and 450˚C developed a red colour. Yellow coloured iron (III) minerals such as goethite (FeOOH) had been dehydrated to red coloured hematite (Fe2O3). If the stone was heated above 450˚C it calcified leading to a white colour. This colour change can help a forensic fire investigator quickly figure out the temperature a stone was exposed to in a firean essential clue on the fire’s nature.

While conducting this research, Micallef came across an Italian study that had concluded that different strains of heterotrophic bacteria can consolidate concrete and stone. Locally, Dr Gabrielle Zammit had shown that this process was happening on ancient limestone surfaces (Zammit et al., 2011). These bacteria have the potential to act as bio-consolidants and Micallef wanted to study if they could be used to reinforce the natural properties of local limestone and protect against weathering. 

Such a study is crucial in a day and age where the impact of man on our natural environment is becoming central to scientific research. The routine application of conventional chemical consolidants to stone poses an environmental threat through the release of both soluble salt by-products and peeled shallow hard crusts caused by incomplete binding of stone particles. Natural bio-consolidation could prove to be an efficient solution for local application and is especially important since Globigerina Limestone is our only natural resource. 

This research is part of an Master of Science in Cross-Disciplinary Science at the Faculty of Science of the University of Malta, supervised by microbiologist Dr Gabrielle Zammit, and chemists Dr Daniel Vella and Prof. Emmanuel Sinagra. The research project is funded by the Master it! Scholarship scheme, which is part-funded by the EU’s European Social Fund under Operational Programme IICohesion Policy 2007–2013.