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Analytical Chemistry

Pipette Manipulates Single Cells

Low-cost handheld device quickly isolates and delivers single-cell droplets

by Laura Howes
August 4, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 31

A simple pipette makes easy work of isolating individual cells and dispensing them in nanoliter droplets for analysis, according to a study describing the new device (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2014, DOI: 10.1021/ja5053279). Isolating and analyzing individual cells, such as cancer cells and stem cells, enables researchers to home in on a cell’s unique genetic traits, drug response, and other characteristics that may differ from averaged values obtained from a cell population. Conventional single-cell isolation methods, including micromanipulation and fluorescence-activated cell sorting, can be time-consuming, complex, and costly. So Lidong Qin of Houston Methodist Research Institute and coworkers devised a simple low-cost pipetting system. The device features a photolithographically fabricated tip, a micrometer-sized hook, and two channels maintained at different pressures. The team uses one channel to draw a cell suspension into the tip where a single cell is captured by the hook. Then they use the pressure difference to wash away uncaptured cells. In a final step, the team delivers a droplet containing the captured cell to standard well plates or other containers. The entire procedure can be completed in 10 seconds, the team notes.


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