"The only current method for electrofusion requires a very expensive and specialized electrical pulse generator," said Lu, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University. "My device uses constant DC voltage and would enable researchers to fuse one pair of cells at a time."
Electrofusion - the process of using electric shocks to fuse two or more living cells - is a growing technology with a wide variety of applications in research, biotechnology and medicine. The technique is integral to stem cell research, where it affords researchers greater insight into how genes guide protein synthesis. It also may be used to create large quantities of different disease-specific antibodies and has helped scientists clone mammals.
The current technique for electrofusion requires a pricey electrical pulse-generator, which could cost as much as $13,000. Lu's technology, on the other hand, uses a $100 DC power supply, which, unlike the specialized generator, can be used to power other laboratory equipment. And because of its microscale dimensions, Lu said his technology requires significantly smaller sample volumes.
"This could be very important," he said. "For example, if you had to supply cells from your own body or from another live organism, you would want to take as few as possible."
Lu's device consists of fluid-filled channels inside a tiny microchip. Prior to fusion, cells are engineered to bond to one another by using a minor chemical treatment. Cells are first placed in an aqueous chamber within the chip, where they pair off. In contact with one another but not yet fused, the cells flow towards the only exit, which is a miniscule gap that channels elect