Ultrafast Compression Offers New Way to Get Macromolecules into Cells

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Researchers have developed a potentially new way to introduce macromolecules and therapeutic genes into human cells. Shown is National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow Anna Liu. (Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech)

Image shows a microfluidic chip to which dye has been added to show the channels. By treating living cells like tiny sponges, researchers have developed a potentially new way to introduce macromolecules and therapeutic genes into human cells. (Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech)

Close-up image shows “speed bumps” in a microfluidic device that compresses cells to temporarily reduce their volume. (Credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech)

Image taken from a video shows cells moving across “speed bump” barriers in a microfluidic device. The resulting collisions compress fluid from the cells, reducing their volume. When the cells refill themselves, they can suck up therapeutic macromolecules and genes from their surroundings.

By treating living cells like tiny absorbent sponges, researchers have developed a potentially new way to introduce molecules and therapeutic genes into human cells. The technique first compresses cells in a microfluidic device by rapidly flowing them through a series of tiny “speed bumps” built into the micro-channels, which compresses out small amounts of fluid. When the cells refill themselves, they bring in the macromolecules or genes.