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Nanostraw Extraction Doesn’t Harm Cells

4/13/17   Routine lab work to examine biological parameters usually depends on destroying cells to release their contents for measurement. This technique has been used for decades, but its downfall is any given cell can only be analyzed once in a snapshot-like manner. A new technique developed at Stanford University enables researchers to non-destructively sample a cell’s interior, thus allowing for dynamic monitoring of the same cell over multiple time-points.



Mimicking natural gates which allow cells to exchange substances, the researchers built an array of nano-scale hollow tubes 600 times thinner than a human hair. Cells grown on this Nanostraw Extraction (NEX) platform are subjected to a momentary electrical current, freeing some of the cellular contents to diffuse out and through the nanostraws for collection and analysis by standard lab techniques, such as ELISA or PCR. Coupling a transient current with these nanostraws allows the researchers to take multiple snapshots of a cell’s interior without killing it.

This technique was tested on cell lines and human stem-cell derived heart and brain cells for up to 20 days, showing that it did not alter cell survival or morphology. This NEX platform promises to revolutionize dynamic assays, such as those studying stem cell development or transient drug responses.