Tech firms to build biosensors with a single molecule on a CMOS chip for disease detection, DNA work

Electronic biosensors are being used in DNA sequencing and now two companies--Roswell and Imec--are developing a new class of sensors that put a single molecule on a CMOS chip and do so in one factory at scale for lower costs. (Getty Images)

San Diego-based Roswell Biotechnologies and nano innovator Imec are collaborating to make the first molecular electronics biosensors chips commercially available in 2021.

Such chips would be useful in detecting COVID-19 and other diseases and for precision medicine, as well as low-cost genome sequencing, on portable or even handheld devices, the companies said recently.

Roswell has developed a platform for molecular electronic sensing for detecting a full spectrum of DNA sequencing and biosensing apps. A molecular electronic chip integrates single molecules used as electrical sensor elements on standard semiconductor chips, which means that electronic biosensors can be produced in massive numbers.

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Electronic biosensors have been gradually adopted in DNA sequencing and other areas of testing, but innovations have been lacking in basic sensor technology. Molecular electronics sensors are a new class of sensors that are designed to be compatible with modern CMOS (complementary symmetry metal oxide semiconductor) chips.  Such chips can be low-cost and will allow high speed biomedical tests needed to crunch DNA sequencing and other biomarkers, Roswell said.

One hurdle to commercializing molecular electronics has been creating custom solutions for largescale manufacturing. Belgium-based Imec developed new semi manufacturing technology based on its experience in biosensors that relies on standard tools.

“The biggest technical obstacle to making molecular electronics chips is nano-fabricating the millions of nano-scale electrodes on the chip in a cost-effective way,” Roswell CEO Paul Mola explained to FierceElectronics via email.  “To disrupt the sequencing and testing markets, our chips have to be made for just a few dollars.  The scale of low-cost manufacturing is only possible if the nanoelectrode features are made in the same foundry that makes the rest of the chip.”

Modern photolithography tools can make nanometer-scale features.  “The capability is there, but the real obstacle is actually just getting access to those tools, which cost of hundreds of million of dollars to develop the specific manufacturing process,” Mola said.  “Working with Imec provides access to these tools and the process development experts capable of creating processors that can then be used to make our chips commercially, at scale.”

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