A new device (represented in image) developed by UCLA engineers and doctors may eventually help scientists study the development of disease, enable them to capture improved images of the inside of cells, and lead to other improvements in medical and biological research. The researchers created a highly efficient automated tool that delivers nanoparticles, enzymes, antibodies, bacteria and other "large-sized" cargo into mammalian cells at the rate of 100,000 cells per minute -- significantly faster than current technology, which works at about one cell per minute. The research, published online in Nature Methods on April 6, 2015, was led by Dr. Eric Pei-Yu Chiou, Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and of Bioengineering at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science at UCLA. Collaborators included students, staff, and faculty members from the engineering school and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Currently, the only way to deliver so-called “large cargo,” particles up to 1 micrometer in size, into cells is by using micropipettes, syringe-like tools common in laboratories, which is much slower than the new method. Other approaches for injecting materials into cells -- such as using viruses as delivery vehicles or chemical methods -- are only useful for small molecules, which are typically several nanometers in length. The new device, called a biophotonic laser-assisted surgery tool (BLAST), is a silicon chip with an array of micrometer-wide holes, each surrounded by an asymmetric, semicircular coating of titanium. Underneath the holes is a well of liquid that includes the particles to be delivered. Researchers use a laser pulse to heat the titanium coating, which instantly boils the water layer adjacent to parts of the cell.
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