That carefully applied metal coating on the stealth probe could give researchers electrical access to the inside of a cell, where they might monitor the electrical impulses generated by various cellular activities, Melosh said. That, combined with the probe's stability in the membrane, could be a huge asset to studies of certain electrically excitable cells such as neurons, which send signals throughout the brain, spinal cord and other nerves.
A device called a "patch clamp" can be used to monitor those sorts of electrical signals among cells now, Melosh said, but in its current form, it is comparatively crude.
"You come in with it, touch it to the cell surface, apply suction and tear a hole in the cell to give you access," he said. "However, it is a fairly slow procedure that has to be done one cell at a time, and it kills the cell within an hour or so."
"If the stealth probe will give us a long-term patch clamp, we'll really be able to get the ability to watch these networks over long periods of time, perhaps up to a week," he said.
"Ideally, what you'd like to be able to do is have an access port through the cell membrane that you can put things in or take things out, measure electrical currents basically full control," said Melosh. "That's really what we've shown this is a platform upon which you can start building those kinds of devices."
The next step is to demonstrate the functionality of the probe in living cells. Almquist and Melosh are now working with human red blood cells and cervical cancer cells, as well as ovary cells from a species of hamster.
|Contact: Louis Bergeron|