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Microchannels, electricity aid drug discovery, early diagnosis

West Lafayette, Ind. - A tiny fluid-filled channel on a microchip that allows single cells to be treated and analyzed could lead to advances in drug and gene screening and early disease diagnosis.

The tool breaks down cell membranes to allow drug and gene delivery and permits examination of intracellular materials by establishing an electrical current across a microscale channel, said Chang Lu, a Purdue University biological engineer. The Purdue system is different from current techniques that use electricity for drug delivery and cell analysis. The new technique handles one cell at a time and uses a common DC power supply rather than a costly pulse generator.

"Normally when you do testing, you need a lot of cells, and the properties that you record are the average of that cell population," Lu said. "If you carry out the test based on single cells, you have access to a more detailed picture of the cell population and can pinpoint abnormalities more quickly and exactly."

The size of the channel, while small enough to accommodate only one cell at its narrowest diameter, varies in width so that the electric field intensity differs depending on the cell's location in the device, Lu said. The flow rate controls how much time the cell spends in the high electrical field, where a process called electroporation occurs. Controlling the length of time in the high electrical field without turning the voltage on and off helps maintain the cell's viability.

Electroporation, which use electricity to treat cells, opens pores in the cell's outer membrane. This allows materials outside the cell that ordinarily couldn't penetrate the membrane to move through it.

Lu's research team's findings on the development and use of the new device are published online by the journal Analytical Chemistry, a publication of the American Chemical Society. The article is scheduled for the July 1 issue of the print publication.

The Purdue Research Founda
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Contact: Susan A. Steeves
ssteeves@purdue.edu
765-496-7481
Purdue University
21-Jun-2006


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