New Electroporation Device Simplifies Cell Access

By Kevin Ritchart


A research team from Rutgers University has developed a new electroporation device that could help to deliver therapeutic drugs to cells more effectively.

Electroporation is a widely used method of delivering foreign vectors into many different types of cells. When cells are exposed to electric fields of a specific strength, the outer membrane forms transient pores that allow molecular transport into the cells. The controlled delivery of biomolecules enables scientists to study the fundamental cellular processes that take place and develop advancements in biomedical research and clinical medicine.

By monitoring changes in individual cells when they’re exposed to short, high-strength electric fields researchers can identify the point at which a cell becomes permeable and determine the exact conditions that will allow for molecular delivery while maintaining cell viability. This technological advancement has expedited the transfection process by eliminating trial-and-error electroporation protocols safely and effectively across all cell types and applications.

Checking the Pulse

The team from Rutgers reported high levels of sensitivity and membrane permeabilization in a continuous-flow environment that had not been previously reported. The researchers performed extensive theoretical monitoring of the micro-electroporation platform, then designed and built a microfluidic device that consisted of a converging microfluidic “electroporation zone” and a set of electrodes that can both pulse the passing cell in transit and sense the degree of cell membrane permeabilization. When the device detects a cell, an electrical pulse is applied to the cell and the electrical signal is checked for changes in the permeability of its membrane; this determines a cell’s payload potential.

By altering both the strength of the electric field and the duration of electrical pulses, researchers were able to measure the membrane impedance response at different levels of intensity. When measurements were taken immediately following pulse application, they found that the degree of membrane permeabilization was dependent on the intensity of the applied pulse. A significant increase in permeabilization occurred when the pulse duration was 0.8 to 1ms.

What’s Next?

The Rutgers team is hoping to build on its recent discovery by further developing this technology into an autonomous system that can use electrical signals to create a flow-through, feedback-controlled, single cell-level electroporation platform. By continuing to improve transfection efficiency, electroporation-based cellular transformation will become more widely used and eventually replace viral-based approaches.

The system could eventually consist of a docking station and software that applies the electrical pulses and monitors permeabilization in real time. The system would be reproducible and easy to use, and it would give laboratories and clinics the ability to perform a wide range of applications, including direct gene editing and transfection for transplantation and cellular therapies.