Inside Information

Researchers develop a nanobiopsy technique for sampling the contents of living cells.

Dec 16, 2013
Abby Olena

HeLa cellsWIKIMEDIA, TENOFALLTRADESIn tumors, different types of cells often exist side-by-side, so sampling multiple cells results in an average view of the tumor’s biology and kills the cells. Researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz, have developed a method to remove and analyze minute amounts of a cell’s insides without doing damage. Their work was published last month (November 26) in ACS Nano.

The team adapted a single ion conductance microscope (SICM), which is normally used to scan the surfaces of cells to explore their topography, so that a computer directed a miniscule glass pipette—100 nanometers in diameter—to pierce the surfaces of cells. The pipette was filled with a solution that created an interface when it came in contact with the cells’ cytoplasm. Then the computer changed the voltage of the solution inside, causing cellular contents to flow into the pipette. Cells recovered within five seconds and could be sampled multiple times. The researchers successfully used the nanobiopsy to obtain RNA from individual HeLa cells and to remove mitochondria from human fibroblast cells. They also sequenced the mitochondrial genomes and identified genetic variants in two mitochondria from the same cell. Nanopipette sampling “might provide the basis for less invasive and more accurate monitoring of disease progression,” the authors wrote.

“I see a hundred possibilities” for the application of this technique, Yuri Korchev, a professor of biophysics at Imperial College London, told Chemical & Engineering News. “You can extract anything,” he added. “That is the beauty of it.”