Moving Cells with Focused Ultrasound


Key Points

  • Caltech researchers have published a study using focused ultrasound to manipulate genetically engineered cells.
  • This technique could be useful for many applications in biomedical research and medicine, including cell sorting, tissue engineering, or cellular-based therapies.

Biomolecular Actuators for Genetically Selective Acoustic Manipulation of Cells

This video by Caltech features Drs. Shapiro and Wu discussing their findings.

Researchers at Caltech have published a study using focused ultrasound to acoustically manipulate cells that are expressing gas vesicles (GVs). The ability to control cells with focused ultrasound could be useful for many applications in biomedical research and medicine. Mikhail Shapiro, PhD, professor of chemical engineering and medical engineering and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, led the study.

In this paper, the Shapiro group describes how they used focused ultrasound to manipulate cells that contain GVs, either expressing GVs as part of a chemically inducible genetic program or incubating cells with GVs. Cells containing GVs are attracted to areas of higher pressure. The group hypothesizes that the technique could be used for cell sorting, to create complex cellular patterns for tissue engineering, or for cellular-based therapies.

According to Di Wu, PhD, the study’s lead author and research scientist in the Shapiro laboratory, this technology could replace the fluorescent-activated cell sorters that are commonly used today. In the Caltech press release, Dr. Wu said, “…acousto-fluidic sorting can be done with a tiny little chip that costs maybe $10…with gas vesicle expression, the cell’s genetics are directly linked to the force that’s being applied to the cell. If they express gas vesicles, they will experience a different force, so we don’t need to separately check if they’re expressing gas vesicles and then move them; we can move them all at once. That greatly simplifies things.”

“One of the major challenges in cell therapy and tissue engineering is getting cells to go to the right place in the body or tissue,” explained Dr. Shapiro. “With this study, we have established the fundamental capability to use ultrasound to physically direct specific cells to specific locations. For example, in the future, this approach could potentially be used to guide a cell therapy to a tumor or to pattern vasculature-forming cells inside an engineered tissue.”

Suzanne LeBlang, MD, the Foundation’s Director of Clinical Relationships, who has been following the work of the Shapiro Laboratory for several years, said, “Dr. Shapiro’s innovative approach with gas vesicles could lead to significant advances in medical care. Manipulation of gas vesicles expressing cells in 3D space will allow for the creation of engineered tissue and stimuli responsive ‘smart’ materials.”

Funding for this research was provided by NIH, the US Army Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

See Science Advances

See Caltech’s Press Release