One of gene therapy's major challenges is getting a gene sequence into a cell without damaging it. Traditional methods are often inefficient and unreliable, but this nano-device may offer a solution.
There are two main routes in gene therapy:
In vivo: Inside the body. This usually involves viral delivery but there are alternatives like liposomal delivery - in which DNA is encased in a membrane. This route is faster and can spread to the whole body, but it's often more expensive and can cause an immune reaction.
Ex vivo: Outside the body. This means you don't need a virus, as you can simply remove some cells, alter them, and then implant them back in. It's targeted and often easier, but it's not suitable for whole body treatment.
How does this machine help?
Research needs transgenic animals more than ever, but science still uses clunky methods to inject DNA. If you want to test the activity of a particular gene in a mouse, the best way is to knock it out in the embryo and see how the animal is effected. Scientists currently do this by using a hollow needle filled with fluid and DNA to inject the sample into a cell. This does work, but it's clumsy and it kills cells about 40% of the time.
Nanotechnology offers great solutions to many biological problems, and this device is no exception. Its elegant design involves a tiny lance 1/100th the size of a human hair. It's much smaller than the traditional needle.
DNA is negatively charged, so designers made the lance positively charged to attract the DNA. The lance then pierces the membrane gently and the charge on the lance is reversed; automatically detaching the DNA.
There you have it. An elegant and simple solution.
Researchers hope the device can increase efficiency and decrease the cost of gene therapy in the lab.
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