2017 UT Undergraduate Research Forum

A part of the University of Texas Freshman Research Initiative, the Aptamer Stream uses oligonucleotide chemistry, in vitro selection methodology, and biochemistry to develop novel therapeutics, diagnostics, and molecular sensors. Our tool of choice for the development of these applications is an "aptamer," an oligonucleotide binding species. We use the methods of in vitro selection methodology to identify aptamers against a variety of targets.

Simply put, "we develop things that bind to things." More specifically, we develop oligonucleotides “aptamers” that can bind tightly and specifically to targets of interest. These aptamers are used in a variety of applications:

  • Medical Therapeutics -- Aptamers against targets implicated in or precursors to disease states could have inhibitory effects, thus alleviating the disease.
  • Diagnostics -- Aptamers against disease biomarkers, small molecules, or whole cells could be used as diagnostics to detect their presence in complex mixtures.
  • Molecular Sensors or Switches -- Aptamers may serve as gene regulators (such as synthetic riboswitches) or as drug delivery vehicles (such as nanoparticle adjuncts).

Methods to select high-affinity aptamers from random pools were first published in 1990 by two independent groups: A. Ellington and J. Szostak (Nature), and C Tuerk and L. Gold (Science). Since that time, aptamers have been raised to bind a wide array of different chemical, biological, or physical conditions including ion deficiency, cancer-associated proteins, toxins, and whole pathogenic bacteria (reviewed in Stoltenburg et al. 2007).

Andrew D. Ellington, Ph.D. is the principal investigator of this stream and a pioneer of aptamer technologies. Gwendolyn M. Stovall, Ph.D. is the research educator of the stream and responsible for the educational and research direction of the lab.