Research

Enabling Capabilities

Leveraging biology and engineering for new solutions

Sandia’s ability to form and optimize multidisciplinary teams is a key enabler behind many of our high-impact solutions to the nation’s most pressing security challenges. In keeping with this tradition, Sandia bioscientists work closely with experts in other science and engineering fields to enlarge capabilities for biological exploration. Drawing on their combined knowledge and ideas, teams work to translate their understanding into developing next-generation biofuels, medical diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.

Explore some of the novel capabilities behind our powerful solutions.

Microfluidics: Tiny devices that transform biochemical analysis

Responding to the need to perform large numbers of biology experiments rapidly while using minimal amounts of biological sample, Sandia has developed microfluidic chips—tiny devices that take micro samples through the entire analysis process at high speed. Just as integrated microelectronic-chips revolutionized computing, microfluidic chips are transforming the field of biochemical analysis—enabling rapid and economic research in new biological frontiers.

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    Sandia has harnessed the power of microfluidics to integrate and automate multiple biochemical processes, including mixing, dilution, concentration, transport, separation, and reaction, onto a single chip. Microfluidic assays can far outperform conventional methods, typically running 10–100 times faster, using 100–1000 times less sample and reagents, and offering 2–10 times better separation resolution and efficiency. Sandia microfluidics research has enabled next-generation solutions in many areas: medical diagnostics, high throughput screening, single cell analysis, and synthetic biology, to name a few.

Computation and Informatics

Building on our long-standing strength in massively parallel computation, Sandia’s efforts in computational biology are leading to new algorithms, simulation methods, and software tools.

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    By applying our high performance computing capabilities to bioinformatics, molecular biophysics, biochemistry, modeling, and complex biological systems, Sandia is creating new computational biology tools and computing architectures. These novel tools drive experimental work by enabling researchers to describe, model, and predict the behavior of cells, networks, pathways, and molecules.

Systems Engineering

The Sandia bioscience program leverages expertise in systems engineering built over more than 60 years to enable fully integrated devices for both biodefense and biofuels research. Our capabilities include Sandia’s state-of-the-art microfabrication facilities, MESA, on-site advanced manufacturing machine shops, and rapid prototyping laboratories.

Nanobiology

The integration of silica and other nanomaterials with such biological molecules as lipids and proteins holds immense promise for many applications, including ultra-small platforms for rapid delivery of drugs and vaccines. Using nature as a guide, Sandia researchers are developing a large variety of nanomaterial platforms for biological applications, including protocells and virus-like particles (VLP).

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    Sandia's protocells are porous nanoparticles protected by a coating similar to the membranes that surround live cells, with a protein that allows them to bind specifically with targeted cells. Virus-like particles (VLP) are non-infectious viral proteins that do not contain genic material, yet mimic the surface coat of a natural virus. The protein expressions on the surface of VLPs generate immune responses similar to a virus playing a key role in many vaccine development and drug delivery strategies.

    Ultimately, researchers aim to load protocells and VLPs with drugs or other molecules and inject them into the bloodstream. The bloodstream then carries them to bind to their target infected cell—which triggers them to release their cargo.

Bioimaging

To gain deeper understanding of cells, proteins, and DNA, as well as their interactions, we employ cutting-edge optical microscopy and imaging tools at increasingly sharp levels of resolution. For example, Sandia researchers are developing super-resolution microscopy methods with optical approaches that offer effective resolutions below the diffraction limit. One such approach, stochastical optical reconstruction microscopy (STORM), is enabling us to study innate immune signaling.

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    As a leader in hyperspectral fluorescence-imaging systems, Sandia has designed 2-D and 3-D hyperspectral fluorescence microscopes and developed proprietary multivariate algorithms and software to extract quantitative image information from hyperspectral data. Our new technologies improve microarray analysis and enable live-cell imaging at diffraction-limited spatial resolution.