Living cells are surrounded by a membrane that tightly regulates what gets in and out of the cell. This barrier is necessary for cells to control their internal environment, but it makes it more difficult for scientists to deliver large molecules such as genes that can reprogram them into pluripotent stem cells, or nanoparticles for imaging.
Researchers from MIT have now found a safe and efficient way to get large molecules through the cell membrane, by squeezing the cells through a narrow constriction that opens up tiny, temporary holes in the membrane. Any large molecules floating outside the cell, such as DNA or proteins, can slide through the membrane during this disruption.
Using this technique, the researchers were able to deliver reprogramming proteins and generate induced pluripotent stem cells with a success rate 10 to 100 times better than any existing method. They also used it to deliver nanoparticles including carbon nanotubes and quantum dots, which can be used to image cells and monitor what’s happening inside them.