We recently saw the potential for nanoneedles and quantum dots to treat skin cancer, however researchers at the University of Illinois have gone one step further.
They have created a nanoneedle (an incredibly small needle) that allows them to peak into the nucleus of a cell. When subjected to an electrical charge, the needle injects quantum dots into the nucleus of a living cell. These quantum dots (nanoscale crystals with unique properties in terms of light emission) can be used to monitor microscopic processes and cellular conditions, aid the diagnosis of disease, and track genetic information from within the nucleus.
Researchers in the past have attempted to use dyes to track the activity of a nucleus, however these dyes were too sensitive to light and the results were deemed inconclusive. The use of quantum dots can solve this problem, as they maintain stability in light, and are easily tracked due to their fluorescence.
“Lots of people rely on quantum dots to monitor biological processes and gain information about the cellular environment. But getting quantum dots into a cell for advanced applications is a problem,” said professor Min-Feng Yu, a professor of mechanical science and engineering at Illinois.
Accessing the nucleus has always proven difficult as it is surrounded by a membrane designed to prevent other molecules within the cell from entering. “This technique allows us to physically access the internal environment inside a cell,” added Yu. “It’s almost like a surgical tool that allows us to ‘operate’ inside the cell.”
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