Image of Christian Heck at Falling Walls Lab Adlershof

Christian Heck won with his pitch "Breaking the Wall of Biomarker Sensing" and will represent the Berlin Adlershof and Potsdam research locations at the 2017 Falling Walls Lab Berlin in November.

Source: Humboldt University Berlin, photographer: Ralph Bergel

How can diseases in human blood be recognised as early as possible? Christian Heck, Ph.D. student at the School of Analytical Sciences Adlershof (SALSA), is working on a solution to this problem. He presented his research to a high-profile jury on October 10th in Adlershof. With his three-minute pitch "Breaking the Wall of Biomarker Sensing", he won the Falling Walls Lab Adlershof, one of the 68 regional preliminary competitions worldwide. This is the first-time that Humboldt-Universität has organised the Adlershof preliminary competition. The final will take place at the 2017 International Falling Walls Conference on the 8th - 9th November in Berlin. Falling Walls Lab awards innovative ideas, social initiatives and research projects in an interdisciplinary format.

Christian Heck is conducting his research project in close cooperation with BAM, Humboldt-Universität and University of Potsdam. It is an example of close networking and excellent cooperation in the Berlin-Brandenburg science region and, in particular, on the Adlershof Campus. Prof. Janina Kneipp from the Institute of Chemistry supervises the project at the Humboldt-Universität. Prof. Ilko Bald from BAM’s Analytical Chemistry; Reference Materials Department is also participating. Bald also teaches at the Institute of Chemistry at the University of Potsdam.

DNA origami technology enables high-sensitivity analyses

The project aims to develop a highly sensitive analytical method that enables certain molecules, so-called biomarkers, to be detected in the blood. "For this, we need an analytical method that can identify molecules at low concentrations with high accuracy. Surface-enhanced Raman scattering has the potential to do this," says Prof. Bald. With this method, the measuring signal of the biomarker can be increased through the use of minute gold or silver particles. However, particularly high amplification is only achieved in rare cases since it requires nanometre-precise positioning of the nanoparticles and the biomarker. The DNA origami technique used by Christian Heck applies precisely this arrangement, in which a three-dimensional framework of DNA molecules binds the individual components. "Test measurements even enabled detection of a single protein molecule," says Heck.

International final in November

SALSA fellow Heck compete with his pitch against other winners of the world-wide preliminary competition at the Falling Walls Lab Final in Berlin. He will represent the Berlin Adlershof and Potsdam research areas with his joint project. The three winners of the final will receive cash prizes and present their projects to an international audience at the conference.