MANHASSET, N.Y. Scientists at the University of St. Andrews have developed a new method to deliver genes to cells using laser light that could have implications for future studies in biomedicine and healthcare.
The new method, which involves a miniature violet laser, is said to be inexpensive, simple, powerful and versatile. The method could potentially find wide medical applications including gene therapy, the delivery of anti-cancer agents and advanced studies of neuro-degenerative diseases.
The team of researchers at the University of St. Andrews (St. Andrews, Scotland) includes scientists from the School of Physics and Astronomy, the School of Biology and The Bute Medical School.
Researchers Lynn Paterson and Ben Agate of the School of Physics and Astronomy said: "We believe we have only touched the surface with this technology: the method is simple and inexpensive and could have important bio-medical implications and should find wide use. Since it also has the potential to assist in the cellular delivery of other bio-molecules, we are now looking at other cell types to see how widely applicable the method proves to be."
The technique involves focusing the violet laser onto cell membranes for a fraction of a second, opening the membrane to allow foreign genes to enter. The cell's internal mechanism causes the membrane of the cell to heal itself, thus appearing to suffer no long-lasting damage.
After inserting the genes, the team grew the cells, which appeared to remain healthy and multiplied normally. The presence of the inserted gene in the multiplied cells was then confirmed by observing the red/green fluorescent proteins produced by the 'new' gene.
The miniature laser used by the St. Andrews group is compatible with standard microscopes, and in contrast to other methods the team can select individual cells to be treated at will under the microscope.
The study is part of a new interdisciplinary initiative funded by SHEFC (Scottish Higher Education Funding Council) and the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council), that aims to use light to enhance understanding of biology and to develop new biomedical devices.