Physicists regulate cell activity with heated nanoparticles

Physicists at the University of Buffalo have begun testing a new approach to manipulating proteins and cells with specially heated nanoparticles, opening up a new approach to treating cancer, diabetes and neurological diseases.

The team of investigators say they can target cell membranes with nanoparticles that can be heated up with a radiofrequency magnetic field. Changing the temperature of the cell membrane influences their activity. That same approach could theoretically be used to spur pancreatic cells to release insulin as a treatment for diabetes. Or it could be used to target specific tissues as a cancer therapeutic.

"Our method is important because it allows us to only heat up the cell membrane. We didn't want to kill the cell," says Arnd Pralle, assistant professor of physics in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. "While the membrane outside the cell heats up, there is no temperature change in the cell." It even appears to help regulate animal behavior.

"We targeted the nanoparticles near what is the 'mouth' of...the amphid," explains Pralle. "You can see in the video that the worms are crawling around; once we turn on the magnetic field, which heats up the nanoparticles to 34 degrees Celsius, most of the worms reverse course. We could use this method to make them go back and forth. Now we need to find out which other behaviors can be controlled this way."

- here's the release