'Honeycomb' of nanotubes could boost genetic engineering

April 6, 2016, University of Rochester Medical Center
'Honeycomb' of nanotubes could boost genetic engineering
Electron microscope image of animal cells (colored blue) cultured on an array of carbon nanotubes.

Researchers have developed a new and highly efficient method for gene transfer. The technique, which involves culturing and transfecting cells with genetic material on an array of carbon nanotubes, appears to overcome the limitations of other gene editing technologies.

The device, which is described in a study published today in the journal Small, is the product of a collaboration between researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

"This platform holds the potential to make the process more robust and decrease toxic effects, while increasing amount and diversity of genetic cargo we can deliver into ," said Ian Dickerson, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the URMC and co-author of the paper.

"This represents a very simple, inexpensive, and efficient process that is well-tolerated by cells and can successfully deliver DNA into tens of thousands of cells simultaneously," said Michael Schrlau, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering at RIT and co-author of the paper.

Gene transfer therapies have long held great promise in medicine. New gene editing techniques, such as CRISPR-Cas9, now enable researchers to precisely target segments of genetic code giving rise to a range of potential scientific and medical applications from fixing genetic defects, to manipulating , to reengineering to fight infection and cancer.

Scientists currently employ several different methods to insert new genetic instructions into cells, including creating small holes in the cell membrane using electrical pulses, injecting DNA into cells using a device called a "gene gun," and employing viruses to "infect" cells with new genetic code.

However, all of these methods tend to suffer from two fundamental problems. First, these processes can be highly toxic, leaving scientists with too few to work with. And second, these methods are restricted in the amount of genetic information - or "payload" - they can deliver into the cells, limiting their application. These techniques can also be time consuming and expensive.

The new device described in the study was fabricated in the Schrlau Nano-Bio Interface Laboratory at RIT by Masoud Golshadi, Ph.D. Using a process called chemical vapor deposition, the researchers created a structure akin to a honeycomb consisting of millions of densely packed carbo nanotubes with openings on both sides of a thin disk shaped membrane.

The device was employed in the Dickerson Lab at URMC to culture a series of different human and . After 48 hours, the cells were bathed in a medium that contained liquid DNA. The carbon nanotubes acted as conduits drawing the into the cells. Using this method, the researchers observed that 98 percent of the cells survived and 85 percent were successfully transfected with the new genetic material.

The mechanism of DNA transfer is still under investigation, but the researchers suspect it may be via a process called enhanced endocytosis, a method by which cells transfer bundles of proteins back and forth through the cell membrane.

The device has also shown the ability to successfully culture a wide range of cell types, including cells that are typically difficult to grow and keep alive, such as immune cells, stem cells, and neurons.

The researchers are now optimizing the technology in hopes that the device - which is inexpensive to produce - can be made available to researchers and, ultimately, used to develop new treatments for a range of diseases.

Explore further: Modified form of CRISPR acts as a toggle switch to control gene expression in stem cells

More information: High-Efficiency Gene Transfection of Cells through Carbon Nanotube Arrays, DOI: 10.1002/smll.201503878, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/smll.201503878/full

Related Stories

FOXA1 found to control specificity of cancer cells

March 21, 2016

(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers with the Mayo Clinic has learned more about how a transcription factor known as FOXA1 forms cancer-specific genomic identifiers and how it regulates gene expression differently among ...

Designing gene therapy

March 31, 2016

Scientists at EMBL have increased the efficiency of a genome-engineering tool called Sleeping Beauty, which is showing promise in clinical trials of therapies for leukaemia and lymphoma. In a study published today in Nature ...

Recommended for you

Atomic-scale manufacturing now a reality

May 23, 2018

Scientists at the University of Alberta have applied a machine learning technique using artificial intelligence to perfect and automate atomic-scale manufacturing, something which has never been done before. The vastly greener, ...

0 comments

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.