A new, patented technique known as Progressive Mechanoporation allows genes or drugs to enter cells by mechanically disrupting cell membranes for a brief period. Researchers would be able to try new treatments more easily than in the past.
Fluorescent soft beads passing through the narrowing channels of a biochip. Image Credit: Technical University of Dresden.
Modern vaccines, like those against SARS-CoV-2, use tiny lipid spheres to deliver genetic material into cells and enable the body to develop an immune response against the virus. A group of scientists from Erlangen, Dresden, and London has created a radically new approach for effectively delivering not only genes but also drugs and other substances into cells.
The technique was called Progressive Mechanoporation by researchers from the Max-Planck-Zentrum für Physik und Medizin (MPZPM) in Erlangen, the Technical University of Dresden, and The Institute of Cancer Research in London, and it was published in the scientific journal Lab on a Chip. They have also applied for a patent.
Ruchi Goswami and Alena Uvizl were members of a team of scientists headed by Salvatore Girardo (Erlangen) and Jörg Mansfeld (Dresden/London) who created the Progressive Mechanoporation. They created a unique polymer biochip with a network of microchannels.
Each microchannel becomes narrower as it progresses, eventually reaching a size more than 10 times thinner than a strand of human hair. The scientists pass the cells into these channels, allowing them to stretch farther and further.
Stretching causes pores in their cell membrane, enabling molecules to pass through these pores and into the cells. The pores close after the cells have gone through the channels.
The researchers showed that Progressive Mechanoporation would deliver even huge proteins within cells. The scientists used antibodies and CRISPR/Cas9, the genetic scissors that won the Nobel Prize last year, as proof of principle.
Potentially a new routine procedure for hospitals
The big advantage of our method is that we can pass up to 10,000 cells per second through the chip.”
Salvatore Girardo, Leader, Technology Development and Service Group Lab-on-a-Chip, Max-Planck-Zentrum für Physik und Medizin (MPZPM)
Around the same time, the technique is very gentle. When compared to other methods, relatively few cells are affected. The Progressive Mechanoporation approach may be used in drug development, allowing pharmaceutical firms to evaluate new molecule candidates more effectively. Furthermore, the mechanism is simple to automate.
I can envision that in the future, hospitals will be able to routinely examine and even treat patients’ cells using Progressive Mechanoporation.”
Jörg Mansfeld, Research Group Leader, Biotechnology Center (BIOTEC), TU Dresden, The Institute of Cancer Research, London
Uvizl, A., et al. (2021) Efficient and gentle delivery of molecules into cells with different elasticity via Progressive Mechanoporation. Lab on a Chip. doi.org/10.1039/D0LC01224F.