Light-based hypodermic needle injects genes, drugs into single cells

Dec. 12, 2008
ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND--Scientists at the University of St. Andrews have developed a novel form of syringe, formed solely from light. Their technique, which relies on a method called "photoporation," allows insoluble compounds such as DNA/RNA and medicines to be injected into individual cells. This potentially will enable disease diagnosis and assist drug development.

ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND--Scientists at the University of St. Andrews have developed a novel form of syringe, formed solely from light. In a joint venture between the Schools of Physics & Astronomy and Biology, the St. Andrews researchers have created a new technique that relies on a method called "photoporation." This innovative method allows cellular injections of insoluble compounds such as genes and drugs. This will allow the potential detection of specific diseases and assist in the development of medication.

Professor Kishan Dholakia from the School of Physics & Astronomy and Dr. Frank Gunn-Moore from the School of Biology led the work. "This method has, to date, been hampered as it was necessary to focus the laser beam to a very precise and extremely small point at the cell surface--a place hard to locate!" noted Dholakia. "However, our novel technique uses a laser beam shape that does not spread: it stays narrow and elongated."

The discovery means that such 'exact focusing' is no longer necessary with the light syringe. Developed as a 'click and go' system, the approach will also be accessible to non-experts.

Gunn-Moore said, "The new form of laser has the ability to target any part of a cell without the need for exact focusing and is not stopped by objects placed in its way."

In a further breakthrough the scientists have also developed the first photoporation system that can be put on the end of a specially designed optic fiber. The light is able to travel along a fiber the width of a human hair, paving the way for the system to be devised for endoscopes, which are commonly used in hospitals as a way of seeing inside the body.

More information:
University of St. Andrews

About the Author

Barbara Gefvert | Editor-in-Chief, BioOptics World (2008-2020)

Barbara G. Gefvert has been a science and technology editor and writer since 1987, and served as editor in chief on multiple publications, including Sensors magazine for nearly a decade.

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