The innovation has the potential to provide non-destructive cell monitoring versus lysing, the cell sampling method presently used. Lysing ruptures the cell, while the sampling method developed at Stanford relies on tiny tubes that are 600 times smaller than a strand of hair. The nanostraws penetrate the cell’s outer membrane without damage, sampling proteins and genetic material inside the cell.
The method is like a “blood draw for the cell,” says Nicholas Melosh, an associate professor of materials science and engineering and senior author of the paper describing the research. Melosh and his colleagues recently published the paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Melosh envisions the nanostraw sampling technique enabling long-term, non-destructive monitoring of cells, providing a much better understanding of cell development. Thanks to the nanostraws, researchers could hopefully gain a much better understanding of stem cell development or the effectiveness of cancer therapies.
“What we hope to do, using this technology, is to watch as these cells change over time and be able to infer how different environmental conditions and ‘chemical cocktails’ influence their development—to help optimize the therapy process,” Melosh said in a Stanford news release.
It took years of trial and error for Melosh and his team to create the gumball-sized Nanostraw Extraction (NEX) sampling system on which the nanostraws are grown. NEX mimics the intercellular gates, called gap junctions, through which cells send each other nutrients and other molecules, though NEX instead samples contents from inside the cells.
Not only did Melosh and his team have to perfect NEX, but they then had to prove that it could sample as effectively as lysing. The compared the nanostraw method with lysing not only for generic cell lines but also with human heart tissue and brain cells grown from stem cells. They demonstrated that the nanostraw method mostly showed the same contents as lysing.
Melosh suspects nanostraws are going to become a hot tool for cellular research.
“We want as many people to use this technology as possible,” Melosh said. “We’re trying to help advance science and technology to benefit mankind.”
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