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Tiny nanoscale tubes developed to sample cell contents

straws-8001_1920A current method to examine a cell's contents involves breaking the cell membrane and seeing what spills out, a process called lysing. It's a crude business and permanent: Once lysed, the cell is dead.

But now, a team of Stanford researchers has developed a "nanostraw," 600 times smaller than a human hair, to gently poke through the membrane and peer inside, leaving the cell, and all of its inner processes, intact. A Stanford press release explains:

'It’s like a blood draw for the cell,' said Nicholas Melosh, [PhD], an associate professor of materials science and engineering and senior author on a paper describing the work published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The nanostraw sampling technique, according to Melosh, will significantly impact our understanding of cell development and could lead to much safer and effective medical therapies because the technique allows for long term, non-destructive monitoring.

'What we hope to do, using this technology, is to watch as these cells change over time and be able to infer how different environmental conditions and ‘chemical cocktails’ influence their development – to help optimize the therapy process,' Melosh said.

Creating these straws took years and the team needed to ensure they could accurately sample cell contents, a process that required ongoing tests. But now, Melosh said the technology is available for others to use.

"It’s a super exciting time for nanotechnology,” Melosh said in the release. “We’re really getting to a scale where what we can make controllably is the same size as biological systems.”

Previously: Non-invasive technique uses lasers and carbon nanotubes to provide view of blood flow in the brain, Helping bridge the divide between engineers and neuroscientists and Iron nanoparticles prompt immune system to attack cancer, Stanford researchers find
Image by Hans

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