Scientists Can Quickly Blast Large Cargoes Into Living Cells With Light

By Jamie Condliffe on at

It's incredibly time consuming to inject large cargoes into cells through their membranes without damaging them. Now, a team of researchers has developed a new technique which uses laser light to blast substances into them—quickly, and without damage.

The team from UCLA has developed a technique it calls BLAST—which stands for biophotonic laser-assisted surgery tool. An array of micron-sized holes, each surrounded by a semicircular coating of titanium, the devices houses a pool of liquid in which floats particles that are to be injected into cells. Application of lasers pulses rapidly heats the titanium, in turn boiling the water layer right next to it.

When a cell happens to be next to the hole, a bubble quickly forms and explodes, creating a tiny hole in the membrane of the cell so tiny that it can reseal. Then, liquid from below rushes in before the hole covers over, delivering the particles it holds. The laser can be scanned from hole-to-hole in order to deliver molecules to the cells at rates of 100,000 cells per minute. In comparison, similarly reliable existing techniques, which use syringe-like micro-pipettes to accurately deliver drugs, can achieve speeds of only one cell per minute.

The researchers explain that the new device can inject nanoparticles, enzymes, antibodies, and bacteria into cells, all with ruthless efficiency. The research is published in Nature Methods. It's expected that the device will be used to perform high through-put testing of how cells respond to having such things injected into them—allowing scientist to generate statistical analyses at speeds far greater than currently achievable. [Nature Methods via PhysOrg]

Image by Eric Pei-Yu Chiou