CHAMPAIGN, Ill., Oct. 1 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’ve developed a needle so tiny it can deliver a research payload called quantum dots directly into the nucleus of a human cell.
Quantum dots are tiny specks of semiconductor material only a few molecules big that can be used to monitor microscopic processes and cellular conditions.
“Lots of people rely on quantum dots to monitor biological processes and gain information about the cellular environment,” Min-Feng Yu, a professor of mechanical science and engineering at the University of Illinois, said.
“But getting quantum dots into a cell for advanced applications is a problem,” he said.
Now Yu and his colleagues have come up with a “nano-needle” so fine it can inject the dots into a pinpointed location within the nucleus, a university release said.
“This technique allows us to physically access the internal environment inside a cell,” Yu said. “It’s almost like a surgical tool that allows us to ‘operate’ inside the cell.”
The researcher coated a single nanotube, only 50 nanometers wide, with a very thin layer of gold, creating a nanoscale electrode probe.
They then loaded the needle with quantum dots. A small electrical charge releases the quantum dots from the needle.
This provides a level of control not achievable by other molecular delivery methods, they say.
“Location is very important in cellular functions,” researcher Ning Wang said. “Using the nano-needle approach you can get to a very specific location within the nucleus. That’s a key advantage of this method.”
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