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Turning an Idea into a Technological Reality
CHORI Collaboration with UCB Mechanical Department Yields Novel Technology for Single Cell Analysis

In a unique collaboration with the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), CHORI scientists Frans Kuypers, PhD, Won Cul Lee, PhD, UCB mechanical engineering student Sara Rigante and UCB professor Albert Pisano, PhD, have developed a single-cell microchamber array, or SiCMA – a groundbreaking new technology to analyze the inside of individual cells in large cell populations.

"Cell populations are often very heterogeneous. You get 100 thousand cells, all of them a little bit different, and you want a way to identify from all those cells only the ones that are of interest to you. It could be cancer cells, cells that make something they shouldn't, or cells that make something you are interested in," explains Dr. Kuypers.

“You can better describe a cell if you can describe what is inside it properly. Our technology actually allows you to look inside a cell, in addition to its surface, to accurately define its characteristics.”

Although current technologies exist that allow scientists to easily characterize the outer surface of different kinds of cells, the ability to actually look inside the cells at the same time and define the cytoplasmic properties has been severely limited.

"Every cell in your body has a cell membrane, which functions like the walls of a house. Inside that house, you have furniture and rugs and a kitchen sink and everything else. All that stuff inside the cell is the cytoplasm," says Dr. Kuypers.

"Now imagine you are going to buy that house. You probably won't want to just look at a picture of the exterior and buy it without looking at what's inside. Cell populations are just like houses, you have to be able to open the front door and look inside."

Unlike a house, however, scientists can't just open the cell's front door without losing all the cytoplasm that is inside of it. Instead, scientists have been relying on tools like microscopy, in which they make a tiny prick in a cell's membrane and look at what comes out under a microscope, or flow-cytometry, in which the cell's external properties, and some internal properties, can be measured, one cell at a time. Neither method, however, is able to quickly and easily characterize larger numbers of cells, or measure for instance the activity of enzymes in such cells over time. Drs. Kuypers and Lee's new technology, however, overcomes both these limitations.

“What we've done is to make very small matrices that contain the cells and prevent any of the cytoplasm from leaving when you open the door to look inside,” says Dr. Lee.

These nano-sized chambers are made of plastic, while their "doors" are made of glass with a thin fiber of gold running through them, which provides the ability to send a charge through the cells to "open their doors" and release the cytoplasm. The cytoplasm is completely contained by the plastic chambers, however.

"This means you can look at many of these individual chambers under a microscope, all at once, and measure what is released from the individual cells" says Dr. Kuypers. "Even better, you can also analyze them over time. One minute, five minutes, 60 minutes. You can imagine that for studying enzyme activity for instance, the ability to study what's going on over time is invaluable."

Read More about the Novel Technology for Single Cell Analysis

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:19 AM

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