A team of scientists at Brown University has developed a technique that allows them to rapidly dissociate a tissue sample into individual cells. The approach involves placing a tissue sample, such as a tumor biopsy, between two electrodes. Electric field fluctuations then help to pull the cells in alternating directions, eventually culminating in their dissociation. Current approaches typically involve using enzymes to digest bulk tissue samples, which takes longer and is more complex. The technique will be very useful for single cell analyses, such as the genetic analyses performed on tumor samples for diagnosis and treatment planning.
Assessing the genetic characteristics of a tumor is frequently crucial in choosing the most appropriate treatment and assessing prognosis. However, current methods typically involve using enzymes to digest a bulk tumor sample containing many cells, and then performing genetic analysis on the resulting alphabet soup.
This leads to a lack of specificity and increased noise in the data, potentially obscuring rare cell types within the tumor and even leading to an incorrect diagnosis and/or choice of treatment. Isolating single cells from a tumor and then analyzing them individually could lead to better results, but it is difficult to separate cells from each other. These researchers have developed a device that will help.
“From a technology standpoint, there’s nothing like this available on the market right now,” said Anubhav Tripathi, a researcher involved in the study. “This technology will be useful for those looking for answers using genomics, proteomics, transcriptomics — it will not only make those diagnostic and therapeutic investigations easier, but will also save researchers time and effort.”
The technology involves using fluctuating electric fields to gently tease cells apart, and takes as little as five minutes, which is faster than existing methods to dissociate tissues, such as those using enzymes or mechanical techniques. Strikingly, the dissociated cells are not just suitable for genetic analysis, but they survive the process relatively unscathed and viable, suggesting that the approach may lend itself to various research approaches that require a single cell suspension and then further cell culture.
“There is a tremendous need for a technology that allows for the removal of tissue from the patient and, within minutes, results in viable, healthy single cells from which RNA can be isolated,” said Nikos Tapinos, another researcher involved in the study. “That is exactly what this new process does.”
Study in Scientific Reports: Electric-field facilitated rapid and efficient dissociation of tissues Into viable single cells