News | Dec 16, 2019

The Air Force Research Lab is making headway on a neuropeptide Y biosensor

There’s a renewed effort at the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop sensitive biosensor devices that can detect trace amounts of hormones and neurotransmitters, a gateway technology for advanced diagnosis and treatment of illnesses including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Using a functional graphene field-effect transistor, Air Force scientists, led by Dr. Larry Drummy, have designed a biosensor with picomolar sensitivity to neuropeptide Y, an important neurotransmitter in the human central nervous system that regulates metabolism, sleep, and cognition.

Luckily, neuropeptide Y is also found in sweat, so sampling can potentially be non-invasive. And high amounts of the neuropeptide Y in the sweat indicate a major depressive disorder even while the patient is not currently exhibiting symptoms as in PTSD.

Using a liquid cell transmission electron microscopy technique, the Air Force scientists directly observed the electrical activity of the neuropeptide Y biding to the graphene field-effect transistor.

The latest innovations, recorded in a 2019 article for the journal Applied Materials & Interfaces, builds on earlier neuropeptide Y research conducted by Dr. Rajesh Naik and colleagues. Their work resulted in a set of binding peptides now protected by U.S. Patent 8,575,069.

In partnership with the Air Force’s technology transfer experts, Joan Wu-Singel, senior technology manager at TechLink, is investigating the opportunity for qualified businesses to leverage the Air Force’s ongoing research through a licensing agreement.

Such an agreement would allow companies access to take advantage of and mature the research conducted to-date and provide intellectual property protections for commercialization, i.e., the development of the biosensor into new products or services.

“Drummy’s team improved it and the sensor looks good,” Wu-Singel said.

Contact Joan Wu-Singel at