Squeeze a cell tightly and holes appear all over its surface, just big enough to push substances like drug molecules and nanoparticles inside. This discovery has many potential applications – a company has begun inserting tumour-targeting proteins into human immune cells by squeezing them, so that they attack cancer more effectively. Cell squeezing is also an aid to fundamental medical research. In the HeLa cells, pictured, chemicals have been forced inside to stain two proteins that scientists wish to study – histone 2B is magenta and lamin A green, while the structural tubules are stained red by a conventional method. Squeezing has the advantage over most other staining techniques of being less likely to alter the way cells work. Once they’ve been squashed, cells seem none the worse for their experience and the holes close up again.
Written by Mick Warwicker
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