Researchers from Harvard University and Korea Institute of Science and Technology in Seoul are working on a method for introducing molecules into the insides of cells with the help of silicon nanowires. Current methods can be clunky and often require the use of viruses and proteins to ferry molecules, meaning that only certain methods work for a given type of cells. By growing cells on top of specially prepared nanowires, the research team believes that just about any molecule can be introduced into most any type of cell, which may lead to a standard new methodology in biochemistry labs.
Technology Review explains with more details:
To use the nanowires to deliver molecules, Park’s team first treated them with a chemical that would allow molecules to bind relatively weakly to the surface of the nanowires, then coated the wires with a molecule or combination of molecules of interest. When cells are impaled on the nanowires, the molecules are released into the cells’ interior. The chemical treatment of the wires could potentially be manipulated to control the binding and release of molecules–releasing them more slowly, for instance–and the wires can be constructed at different lengths to reach different parts of the cell. To demonstrate the method’s flexibility, the team used the approach to deliver chemicals, small RNA molecules, DNA, and proteins into a range of cell types.
The beds of nanowires can be arranged on microarrays suitable for rapid experiments and imaging cells under a microscope. These microarrays can be “printed” with different patterns or combinations of molecules, making it possible to test many different molecules at once on an array of cells. The authors believe it could be possible to screen 20,000 different proteins or other chemicals on cells within a single microscopic slide.
More at Technology Review: Needling Molecules…
Abstract in PNAS: Vertical silicon nanowires as a universal platform for delivering biomolecules into living cells
Image: Rat neurons growing normally on a bed of nanowires. Credit: Hongkun Park