Battle against cancer gets nano boost

Tiny needle probes single human cell, injects drugs

The needle’s ability to deposit medicine within a single cell may overhaul regular clinical practices like delivering drugs precisely to cancerous cells. Since these needles can be attached to any regular instrument, they are easy to operate.

The researchers use multi-walled carbon nano tube—50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair—to make a “cellular endoscope”, for probing single cell with a dimension of one thousandth of a millimetre (a micro-metre). The diameter of these carbon nano-tubes would vary between 50 and 200 nanometres.

“A cellular endoscope is a novel, but conceptually simple device. It consists of a single carbon nano tube connected to the tip of a larger glass micro-pipette commonly used in biological studies,” said Riju Singhal, one of the researchers at Drexel University, United States, where it was made. The study has been published in the latest issue of “Nature Nanotechnology.”

“The nano-needle creates opportunities in minimally invasive intra-cellular probing at a single organelle level, drug delivery, and single-cell surgery,” said Sayan Bhattacharyya, a team members who is at Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research, Kolkata.
Since anti-cancer drugs destroy healthy issues surrounding cancerous cells, globally research is on to look out for delivery methods to transfer the drugs only to the target cells.

“The needle can transfer tiny quantities of drug inside the cells in a controlled manner. They can deliver drugs even in a quantity as small as one trillionth of a millilitre, which is impossible to do with the current technology,” Bhattacharaya told Deccan Herald.

Cost, however, may turn out to be a dampener, at least for the time being. “The work based on carbon nanotube will not really lead to a viable technology because of the cost factor in making carbon nanotube,” said Arup Raychaudhuri, director of S N Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences, Kolkata, who is not involved with this study.

Precision surgery

The needles can be used for diagnosis at the cellular level as well as for precision surgery.

Nano-endoscopes will provide a new window to biologists through which they can look at the functions of individual cells in more details. “Tools capable of interrogating single cells with no damage and minimal stress, enabling simultaneous injection, optical and electrochemical diagnostics in high precision would revolutionise cell biology,” Bhattacharaya  added.

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