Scientists at the Houston Methodist Research Institute have figured out how to pick up and transfer single cells using a pipette -- a common laboratory tool that's been tweaked slightly. They describe this engineering feat and preliminary test results in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
"Studying single cells and their unique functions has become a frontier in current biomedical research," said nanomedicine department. faculty member Lidong Qin, Ph.D., the project's principal investigator.
"One of the biggest challenges for single-cell research is picking out only one cell from a collection of millions of cells. Cells are not only small, but also flexible in mechanics and variable in size; which are then extremely difficult for researchers and clinicians to capture single ones."
Zhiqiang Wang, Ph.D., professor of chemistry at Tsinghua University in Beijing, also contributed to the project.
Typical pipettes are fancy syringes used in laboratories to withdraw and deposit liquids, such as pure water or to transfer suspensions of bacterial cells into growth broth.
Some pipettes can translate coarse movements of the user's thumb into fine, exact, push-pull actions; other pipettes can be hard-programmed to manipulate exact volumes of liquid down to mere nanoliters, or billionths of a liter.
Few technologies exist that allow researchers to withdraw single animal or bacterial cells from a tube or Petri dish, and those that do exist are cumbersome, expensive, and can be extremely time consuming to use, Qin said. That's why he and his group developed the handheld single-cell pipette, or hSCP.
"Some old and clumsy methods are used to capture single cells," he explained. "Some researchers use their mouths at one end of the pipette, driven by their own mouth force, to try to ensure only a minimum amount of cell suspension collected. The sample is then checked with a microscope to find out the number of cells captured. The opportunity to get only one cell is hit or miss and a bit troublesome.
"One company provides a million-dollar machine that can help biologists transfer single cells to 96-well plates. Each run costs an additional $1,000 to purchase the plate. Such technology will not be widely accessible to biologists."
The prototype of Qin's hSCP has two plungers (see figure). The first plunger withdraws fluid from a suspension of cells. Fluid travels through canals on either side of a nanoscopic, laser-sculpted "hook" that is just big enough to trap one cell. This hook can be altered depending on the size and type of cells a researcher is interested in. The first plunger is also used to wash and separate the captured cell from other cells that may have been extracted. The second plunger pushes the captured cell out of the pipette, possibly into growth medium, or onto a slide or welled plate for study.
Qin said one of his goals is to make the technology cost $10 or less per run. Future designs of the hSCP will be developed with mass production in mind. Qin said his group can also produce hSCPs that pick up virtually any small number of cells depending on a scientist's needs by etching more hooks during the pipette's construction.
Also contributing to the JACS paper were lead author Kai Zhang, Ph.D., whom Qin credits with helping to translate the initial design into a working device, Xin Han, Ph.D., Ying Li, Ph.D., Sharon Yalan Li, and Youli Zu, M.D., Ph.D. (Houston Methodist) and Zhiqiang Wang, Ph.D. (Tsinghua University in Beijing), whom Qin credits with helping the Houston Methodist group appreciate the significant diversity of single cells of the same type and the commercial value of single-cell pipette technology. Work was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, and the Golfers Against Cancer Foundation.
To speak with Qin, please contact David Bricker, Houston Methodist, at 832-667-5811 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Handheld and integrated single-cell pipettes," Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2014, 136 (31), pp 10858–10861
David Bricker | newswise
Study shines light on brain cells that coordinate movement
26.06.2017 | University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine
New insight into a central biological dogma on ion transport
26.06.2017 | Aarhus University
An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.
Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...
Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.
Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...
Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.
As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...
Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.
With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...
Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine
Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...
19.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
13.06.2017 | Event News
26.06.2017 | Life Sciences
26.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
26.06.2017 | Information Technology