Mesoporous silica chips for harvesting the low molecular weight proteome from human serum
In this dissertation, mesoporous silica thin films with tunable features at the nanoscale were fabricated using the triblock copolymer template pathway, with the aim of specifically harvesting the low molecular weight peptides and proteins from human serum, which has been regarded as a potential source of diagnostic biomarkers for the early detection of disease. The superior properties of mesoporous silica have been demonstrated in applications which include chemical sensing, filtration, catalysis, drug-delivery and selective biomolecular uptake. These properties depend on the architectural, physical and chemical properties of the materials, which in turn are determined by the processing parameters in evaporation-induced self-assembly (EISA). Using the different polymer templates and polymer concentration in the precursor solution, various pore size distributions, pore structures and surface hydrophilicities were obtained and applied for nanotexture-selective recovery of low mass proteins. With the assistance of mass spectrometry and statistic analysis, we demonstrated the correlation between the nanophase characteristics of the mesoporous silica thin film and the specificity and efficacy of low mass proteome harvesting. In addition, to overcome the limitations of the pre-functionalization method in polymer selection, plasma ashing was used for the first time for the treatment of the mesoporous silica surface prior to chemical modification. Opposite surface charges due to the different functional groups used, resulted in a distinctive selectivity of the low molecular weight proteins from the serum sample. The mesoporous silica chips operate with extraordinary rapidity, high reproducibility, no sample pre-processing, and substantial independence from sample acquisition and storage temperature.In conclusion our study demonstrates that the ability to tune the physicochemical properties of mesoporous silica surfaces has the potential to promote the use of this material as a tool for the selective separation and concentration of the low molecular weight proteome from complex biological fluids.