Available Technology

A Cell Injection System Using Carbon Nanotubes IB-2323, IB-2333

Alex Zettl and Carolyn Bertozzi of Berkeley Lab are the first to develop a mechanism to introduce molecules into a biological cell without harming the cell itself. The nanoinjector they devised is a single, multi-walled carbon nanotube (CNTs), called a nanoneedle, attached to the tip of an atomic force microscope (AFM) probe. Carbon nanotubes are hollow wires of pure carbon about 50,000 times slimmer than the finest human hair but stronger than steel, making them ideal needles. The cargo is released in the reducing environment within the cell’s interior, The nanoneedle is then retracted by AFM control. Apart from the more obvious advantage of nanoinjection of keeping a cell intact, the chemical attachment of the cargo also eliminates the need for a carrier solvent that adds undesirable volume to the cell. Furthermore, the amount of cargo released within the cell can be adjusted by varying the amount of time the nanoneedle remains in the cell. Finally, molecular probes such as the quantum dot can be inserted into the cell and thus probe the cell’s interior for fine details such as the presence of a specific molecule. In fact, the Berkeley team has already been proven successful in delivering small numbers of protein-coated quantum dots into a line of mammalian cells. The ability to attach arbitrary cargo to the nanoneedle system makes it a versatile and practical technology for researchers performing single cells studies. The Berkeley team is exploring other cargo loading and release mechanisms that will facilitate the nanoneedle’s use as a “plug-and-play” technology for a variety of cargos.
Unlike microinjection, nanoneedle injection does not damage the cell membrane - Overcomes other limitations associated with microinjection: - Eliminates need for a carrier solvent - Not limited to larger cells - Provides nanometer-scale control of nanoneedle position for targeted cargo delivery - Allows control of the number of cargo released by adjusting incubation time of nanoneedle within the cell - Enables probing of cell’s interior for specific molecules or properties
Internal Laboratory Ref #: 
IB-2323, 2333
Patent Status: 
Issued US Patent 8257932 available at www.uspto.gov. Available for licensing or collaborative research. To learn more about licensing a technology from LBNL see here.
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