The Deloitte QB3 Award for Innovation is an annual contest for research which “represents the best life science on the campuses of UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and UCSF.” This year one of the finalists is a first-year grad student in our department, Michelle Maalouf, who did her work as an undergrad in Nader Pourmand’s lab. She kindly gave me this description of what she did (which I resisted editing, though the temptation is always strong when student work crosses my desk):
I utilize an injection system based on nanopipette technology, which was pioneered by Professor Pourmand to introduce defined quantities of molecules, such as RNAs, proteins and small molecules, into cells and alter their fate. The fully electrical operation control as well as the ease and low cost of fabrication are unique features that give nanopipette technology enormous potential to alter cell fate. I, as a part of Prof. Pourmand’s team, co-developed a single-cell manipulation platform based on quartz nanopipettes (~50nm) which is fitted with electrodes to mediate voltage-dependent injection into individual cells. Due to the nanostructure/size (<100nm), nanopipette tips cause less disruption to the cell membrane and allows single cell penetration multiple times without compromising cell viability. Furthermore, the use of double-barrel nanopipettes allows independent injection of two separate molecules, one from each barrel.
Nanopipettes improve current injection methods due to its high controllability and high viability of cells post injection. We have shown successful injections into mammalian cells, a technique that is a historically difficult task when using a micropipette. We will use single cell injections to reprogram human skin cells into artificial stem cells known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Using the nanopipette for injections to create patient-derived iPSCs offers a customized technique to address regenerative medicine by replacing damaged cells with cell therapy. iPSCs have the potential to deliver cell replacement therapy to support regenerative medicine. iPSCs can by-pass the issues of immune rejections when used for a source of tissue for transplantation because the cells can be biopsied from within the same patient (Stadtfeld et al. 2010). Regenerative therapies have the potential to treat many diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and Parkinson’s disease. Reprogramming of adult cells into stem cells avoids the need to use human embryos to derive stem cells and therefore negates moral and ethical issues connected with this source (Robertson 1999). Present-day methods to reprogram adult cells into iPSCs are inefficient with a success rate of 1-5% of cells within a population (Warren et al. 2010). Nanopipette technology potentially can have a great impact in stem cell research where there is a need for technologies able to inject molecules of reprogramming factors into cells with a great precision in terms of ratio and concentration.
If you have a University of California e-mail address, you can vote for her project (or one of the other 4 finalists, if you really think that they are better), on the public Facebook page for the contest, but voting only runs until 2012 Oct 12.
The nanopipette work in Pourmand’s lab is pretty cool, and they do a lot with nanopipettes (sensing, injecting, and extracting). For such a cheap technology, it is surprisingly powerful.