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Stealth Probe may one day lead to new treatment methods for disease

Measuring the activity that happens inside a cell in a living organism can be done today. However, the methods used to gain access to the inside of the cells are relatively crude and destructive. Often accessing the inside of the cells using today's methods kills the cell within only a few hours, if the cells survive the initial insertion of probes.

Scientists at Stanford University have developed a new nanoscale probe they have dubbed the "stealth probe" which can monitor the inner workings of a cell without causing damage to the cell. The probe can be used to capture the signals used by cells to communicate with each other and to monitor the so called "digestive rumblings" of the cells as they react to medications for up to a week.

The breakthrough came when the researchers developed a nanoscale probe that mimics the natural gateways within a cell that allows materials in and out of the cellular membrane according to one of the researchers , Nick Melosh. The team believes that with some modifications, their stealth probe could be used to insert medications directly inside the cells of the human body.

Another possible use would be in interfacing a new generation of prosthetic limbs with muscles that would allow direct control of the prosthesis just as the muscles controlled the natural limb. For instance, the muscles of the chest could be connected to an artificial arm using the probes.

The team used metal-coated silicon probes about 600nm long to develop their stealth probe. The tricky part of the design according to the researchers was developing a hydrophobic band that could be applied to the probe tip that was only a few nanometers thick.

Melosh said, "Getting that hydrophobic band just a few nanometers in thickness was an incredible technical challenge." The hydrophobic band was a very important part of designing a functional probe and getting the probe to be able to transfer materials in and out of the cell.

The probe is an artificial version of the transmembrane protein gateways that naturally occur inside cells. Melosh said, "What we have done is make an inorganic version of one of those membrane proteins, which sits in the membrane without disrupting it. Now we can envision using it for doing our own gate keeping." 

The next step in the research is to demonstrate a functional probe in living cells. The team is currently working with human red blood cells, cervical cancer cells, and ovary cells from a specific hamster species.

"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."

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By icanhascpu on 4/2/2010 5:07:31 PM , Rating: 2
The probe is an artificial version of the transmembrane protein gateways that naturally occur inside cells.

I'd like to know exactly what these are made of. At what point in our near medical-technological future do these things get small enough to simply be representations of actual partials of a cell to do as we want a cell to do?

RE: Intriguing.
By whiskerwill on 4/2/2010 5:24:39 PM , Rating: 2
Huh? Your last sentence doesn't scan.

RE: Intriguing.
By JKflipflop98 on 4/3/2010 4:40:12 AM , Rating: 2
He said it won't be too much longer until we won't be implanting probes, we'll be implanting replacement parts for the cell itself that isnt' working.

dailytech flexes its maturity muscle
By tastyratz on 4/2/2010 2:15:54 PM , Rating: 2
by starting with the "probe" jokes in 3...2...1...

By ClownPuncher on 4/2/2010 3:27:44 PM , Rating: 3
I'm still too flushed after reading about the Hamster ovaries to concentrate.

Great steps forward....
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 4/2/2010 12:04:28 PM , Rating: 2
A nano probe with the prime directive.

By lomotil33 on 4/2/2010 1:36:12 PM , Rating: 2

By killerclick on 4/4/2010 10:55:09 AM , Rating: 2
This will be used to create snapshots of neurons and their interactions and it won't be long until we have artificial brains (immortality of sorts)

mitochondria and probes
By eggman on 4/5/2010 3:31:34 PM , Rating: 2
First some bacteria infects our ancient ancestors and now we have mitochondria, with their own genome, that we can't live without and now we are going to introduce nano-probes. I can only imagine what we will be like in a few thousands of years. I can imagine a use for inter-probe communication, then a little further down the road autonomous intelligence would be helpful. At some point the probe will be powered with glucose and probably made of bio-identical materials with self healing capabilities. Before you know it we will classified as Homoprobans!

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