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Newly Developed Method for Minimally Invasive Cell Sampling

Team led by Northwestern Engineering faculty developed a minimally invasive method called localized electroporation to sample cells.

Current research methods for gene profiling or protein analysis destroy the cell, limiting the study to having to hit the right point in time. Researchers are unable to return to the cell to examine how things change beyond that snapshot.

Horacio Espinosa, James N. and Nancy J. Farley Professor in Manufacturing and Entrepreneurship in the McCormick School of Engineering, led the team that created the live cell analysis device (LCAD), which can non-destructively sample the contents from small number of cells many times.

When LCAD is coupled with SAMDI, a highly sensitive and label-free method for quantification of enzymatic activity using mass spectrometry, the intracellular contents sampled by LCAD are then analyzed for the presence of enzymes. SAMDI (Self-Assembled Monolayer Desorption Ionization) was developed in the lab of Milan Mrksich, Northwestern University vice president for research and Henry Wade Rogers Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry, and Cell and Molecular Biology.

Espinosa explained that by exploiting advances in microfluidics and nanotechnology, localized electroporation can be employed to temporarily open small pores in the cell membrane enabling the transport of molecule into the cells or extraction of intracellular contents. The minimally invasive nature of this method allows it to be repeated multiple times without cell disruption.

The LCAD-SAMDI platform offers an opportunity for biologists and physicians to investigate how specific treatments may alter these enzymatic activities and the associated diseases over time.

This method will open up possibilities to investigate time-dependent processes, like cell differentiation, disease progression, or drug response, at regular intervals. The LCAD also can be used to deliver proteins into cells. The combination of delivery and sampling could potentially be used in studies involving delivery of molecules, like DNA and proteins, and investigating its effect on the activity of another via sampling.

Overall, this method can provide complementary information regarding cellular dynamics, which may not be possible using traditional assays. In the future, as the technology improves and sensitivity increases, it may be possible to sample temporal information for several different types of proteins simultaneously from the same cell populations. [APBN]