The power of one: A simpler, cheaper method for cell fusion

Dec 05, 2006
The power of one: A simpler, cheaper method for cell fusion
Chang Lu, at right, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering, and graduate student Jun Wang run a test on their microfluidic chip that fuses cells. A growing research technology, cell fusing is vital in studying stem cells, creating clones and finding disease antibodies. Credit: Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell

It's not easy to make one plus one equal one. But biological engineer Chang Lu has done just that with a new and cheaper method to electrically fuse cells - a vital technology for studying stem cells, creating clones and finding disease antibodies.

"The only current method for electrofusion requires a very expensive and specialized electrical pulse generator," said Lu, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University. "My device uses constant DC voltage and would enable researchers to fuse one pair of cells at a time."

Electrofusion - the process of using electric shocks to fuse two or more living cells - is a growing technology with a wide variety of applications in research, biotechnology and medicine. The technique is integral to stem cell research, where it affords researchers greater insight into how genes guide protein synthesis. It also may be used to create large quantities of different disease-specific antibodies and has helped scientists clone mammals.

The current technique for electrofusion requires a pricey electrical pulse-generator, which could cost as much as $13,000. Lu's technology, on the other hand, uses a $100 DC power supply, which, unlike the specialized generator, can be used to power other laboratory equipment. And because of its microscale dimensions, Lu said his technology requires significantly smaller sample volumes.

"This could be very important," he said. "For example, if you had to supply cells from your own body or from another live organism, you would want to take as few as possible."

Lu's device consists of fluid-filled channels inside a tiny microchip. Prior to fusion, cells are engineered to bond to one another by using a minor chemical treatment. Cells are first placed in an aqueous chamber within the chip, where they pair off. In contact with one another but not yet fused, the cells flow towards the only exit, which is a miniscule gap that channels electricity from one pole to the other. Passing through this narrow section, cells are subjected to a strong electrical field that causes them to become destabilized and fuse together.

In one of electrofusion's applications, scientists can fuse antibody-producing cells from the spleen (beta cells) with cancer cells in order to create a virtually immortal, antibody-producing hybrid, called a hybridoma. By manipulating the beta cells prior to fusion, scientists can create thousands of different hybridomas that produce antibodies effective against different viruses and diseases like cancer.

Lu's research regarding the development and use of this technology was published online Monday (Dec. 4) in the journal Applied Physics Letters and is scheduled to appear in print later this month. Graduate student Jun Wang was a co-author.

One downside to the current technique for electrofusion is that researchers have relatively little control over how many cells they fuse at once; the technique works by aligning an uncertain number of cells along an electrical field before zapping them with pulses of electricity. Lu's technology is more precise.

"In my device, the narrow section in the microfluidic channel is so small that only two to three cells fit into it," Lu said.

Lu said he believes that his device may be developed to have a higher throughput than current methods. Although Lu's technology currently fuses single pairs at once, it may be expanded so that multiple devices simultaneously fuse cells in parallel.

"In time, this could drastically increase the rate of cell fusion," he said.

Lu has shown that his technology has a success rate comparable to current technology; about 30 percent to 40 percent of the cells are properly fused when the operational parameters were tuned up.

"We are not saying that our technology is necessarily better, but it is definitely cheaper and has other benefits," he said. "Hopefully, with our technology many more scientists will be able to experiment with the procedure. I believe that could open up a lot of exciting research opportunities."

Lu demonstrated the efficacy of his device using Chinese hamster ovary cells, which were chemically engineered to link prior to fusion. He said his technology could be developed to fuse different types of cells in the future.

Source: Purdue University

Explore further: Norway tests out 'animal rights cops'

Related Stories

Detecting lysosomal pH with fluorescent probes

Apr 09, 2015

Lysosomes are the garbage disposals of animal cells. As the resources are limited in cells, organic materials are broken down and recycled a lot—and that's what lysosomes do. Detecting problems with lysosomes ...

A long-standing mystery in membrane traffic solved

Mar 27, 2015

In 2013, James E. Rothman, Randy W. Schekman, and Thomas C. Südhof won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries of molecular machineries for vesicle trafficking, a major transport ...

New technique to chart protein networks in living cells

Mar 16, 2015

A new approach for studying the behaviour of proteins in living cells has been developed by an interdisciplinary team of biologists and physicists in the Cell Biology and Biophysics Unit, the Ellenberg Laboratory ...

Color-coading gene sequences in human cells

Mar 04, 2015

(Phys.org)—Is there a way to peer inside the nucleus of a living cell and see how the genes interact? After the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2001, researchers have focused on epigenetic factors, ...

Activating genes on demand

Mar 04, 2015

When it comes to gene expression - the process by which our DNA provides the recipe used to direct the synthesis of proteins and other molecules that we need for development and survival - scientists have ...

Improving genome editing with drugs

Feb 05, 2015

One of the most exciting scientific advances made in recent years is CRISPR—the ability to precisely edit the genome of cells. However, although this method has incredible potential, the process is extremely inefficient. ...

Recommended for you

Silicon: An important element in rice production

44 minutes ago

Silicon (Si) is the second most abundant element of the earth's crust after oxygen. It has long been neglected by ecologists, as it is not considered an essential nutrient for plants. However, research of ...

New blueberry species found in the Colombian forests

1 hour ago

The description of five new species of blueberry relatives from Colombia highlights the country's great diversity of the plant family Ericaceae and the importance of field exploration. These new mortiños, as loc ...

A CRISPR antiviral tool

1 hour ago

Emory scientists have adapted an antiviral enzyme from bacteria called Cas9 into an instrument for inhibiting hepatitis C virus in human cells.

Researchers find proteins responsible for orchid shape

2 hours ago

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers with National Chung Hsing University in China has found the proteins responsible for determining the shape of orchid lips. In their paper published in the journal Nature Pl ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.