Dr Paul Campbell at
Depending on the ultrasound intensity, these effects can be temporary and the cell will re-seal itself, locking in the drug. But if the intensity is increased the cell can be killed outright. Hence it is useful for cancer treatment and one reason why the technique holds such potential for future medical applications.
‘It has been known for 20 years or so that when you apply ultrasound, somehow molecules from outside the cells can traverse the cell membrane and be incorporated into the cell,’ said
The camera, on loan from
Campbell and Prof Kishan Dholakia are developing the techniques learned from their research to create tools they hope will revolutionise the delivery of genes, drugs and therapeutic molecules to single cells and tissue samples. Using the new technology, which employs ultrasonics and optics (Sonoptics), the teams aim to capitalise on this new understanding in a biological environment.
‘It is a tedious and painstaking process using in vitro fertilisation to enter products into cells,’ said Campbell ‘My colleagues and I thought, “why not automate the ultrasound and have a fast and efficient way to load any molecule into any cell via this combination of optics and ultrasound?”‘
To exploit this technology the teams aim to develop an automated bench-top device for laboratory use, which
Force of light
The basis of the technology involves an unexpected property of light that, when sharply focused, can exert a tangible force on microscopic objects. The light can act like a miniaturised hand, ‘grabbing’ tiny objects and moving them to other locations – a process termed ‘optical tweezing’.
‘Once we complete the four-year project we will deliver an automated bench-top apparatus where you can put any cell of any choice in, trap it in an array of tweezers and use it with ultrasound and hopefully get that controllable optic facility,’ he said.
Being able to deliver drugs to remote anatomical sites in a controlled and non-invasive way is an area of growing interest globally. In the