Scientists at Clemson University in the US have rigged an HP Deskjet 500 printer to make microscope slides full of living cells. It spits out a a special cell-packed ink from the printer's standard cartridge. The process creates cells with temporary permeability in the cell walls, and the holes in the cells are large enough to allow fluorescent molecules to be injected. That glowing stuffing illuminates the membranes, so researchers can get a look at what's happening inside the cells. When studying a heart, for example, the technique can be used to examine how the cardiac muscles respond to mechanical force and fluid shear.
Follow the step-by-step instructions in the video below, and you can do it too! You'll need laminar flow cabinet, a sonicator and a centrifuge. Oh, and an old printer. If you happen to have access to a biology lab, you're set. But even if you don't, it's intriguing to watch the intricate MacGyver-esque process of cleaning, prepping and completely changing the function of an HP DeskJet 500. Not to mention the adorably camera-shy scientists describing the advantages of the technique.
We first had the idea for this method when we wanted to be able to visualize changes in the cytoskeleton arrangement due to applied forces on cells," said paper-author Dr. Delphine Dean. She said other researchers have been using this method to print cells onto slides, but that they have only recently discovered that printing the cells causes the disruption in their membranes for a few hours. Creating temporary pores allow researchers to put molecules inside of cells that wouldn't otherwise fit, and study how the cells react.
The video is part of a publication in the Journal of Visualized Experiments, A.K.A. JoVE, which is fascinating in its own right. Scientists who want to publish in JoVE must provide both text and video. Katherine Scott, director of science communications at JoVE, told me it's the only peer-reviewed, PubMed-indexed science journal to publish all of its content in both formats.
It's a powerful way to present research! Even if you may not have the degree that allows you to understand the terminology and methods completely, it's much more accessible than trying to read a scientific paper. And the explanation of contributors in the video above has so much more impact than looking at a meaningless long list of names in text. [JoVE]