'BLAST' laser method allows large particle delivery to 100,000 cells per minute

Cells aligned over holes on a silicon chip to allow quick delivery of particles--Courtesy of UCLA

Researchers at UCLA have developed a new method for the delivery of large molecules into cells. The tool has shown in early tests that it can shuttle nanoparticles, enzymes, antibodies, bacteria and other materials into cells at up to 100,000 cells per minute.

Offering much greater efficiency than the current practice of micropipetting large molecules into cells one at a time, the new device creates temporary holes in many cells at once through which cargo can be inserted.

The device, a biophotonic laser-assisted surgery tool--aptly dubbed BLAST--is a silicon chip with holes that are a micrometer wide, each coated with a semicircle of titanium. The liquid to be inserted in the cells lies below the chip. The researchers heat the titanium with a laser, instantly boiling nearby water to create a bubble that explodes on the surface of the cells, which have been placed over the holes in the chip. The temporary hole allows for the particles below the chip to enter the cell without causing permanent damage.

Not only can this help with drug delivery, but the researchers are hopeful that the technique will help them study cell interactions with certain pathogens, as well as other cellular mechanisms.

"The new information learned from these types of studies could assist in identifying pathogen targets for drug development, or provide fundamental insight on how the pathogen-host interaction enables a productive infection or effective cellular response to occur," study author Michael Teitell said in a statement.

The team published the paper in the journal Nature Methods.

- here's the UCLA report
- read the research abstract