Canary on a Chip: Biomimetic Lung-Based Biosensor for the Rapid Detection of Airborne Pollutants

Respiratory epithelial cells, which form the lining of the airway system, provide our bodies its first line of defense against many harmful inhaled agents including dusts, air pollutants, chemicals and microbes, in addition to many biological and chemical agents. CITRIS researchers aimed to design and develop small-scale biosensors to incorporate airway epithelial cells to detect airborne pollutants through microfluidic devices. These devices detect harmful airborne agents, which, when integrated into a wireless system, would enable a detection system linked into a real-time communications network. These sensor communications networks could provide a much needed early warning system for sensitive areas, such as in large population centers or areas with polluted air. This project also represents a unique opportunity to apply sensor network technology to monitor the air quality in the San Joaquin Valley, which ranks amongst the most polluted air basins in the US and has been designated by EPA as a “nonattainment” area. However, biosensors for nanoparticles are still under-developed. This project aims to develop a highly sensitive and potential portable whole cell-based biosensor with the capability to detect the presence of a wide-variety of nanoparticles for air quality control.

Wei-Chun Chin