On the hook: A new pipette to capture single cells

July 23, 2014 § Leave a comment

The handheld single-cell pipette. Image provided by Lidong Qin.

The handheld single-cell pipette. Image provided by Lidong Qin.

Seeking out individuals from a crowd has become increasingly important for biologists interested in single-cell analyses. Studies on individual cells allow scientists to understand processes that happen within this basic unit of life that often get masked by approaches that analyze groups of cells.

But there is “one very basic problem — how can one precisely pick up an individual cell?” asks Lidong Qin at the Houston Methodist Research Institute. Current methods of isolating single cells can be inefficient, expensive, time-consuming, biased or labor-intensive. Now, in a paper just out in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Qin and colleagues describe a new kind of pipette specially designed to pick out single cells. “The pipette platform is almost a universal tool that is easy, cheap and reproducible,” says Qin.

The instrument, called the handheld single-cell pipette or hSCP, has dimensions much like a conventional handheld air-displacement pipette. It has two channels and one tip.

A researcher uses the hSCP to suck up cells from a Petri dish. Inside the pipette tip is a hook small enough to catch a single cell at random from the cells that get sucked up from the dish. Those cells that are not on the hook get removed by a flow of liquid, while the single cell on the hook can be deposited into standard 96-well or similar types of plates, Petri dishes or vials for single-cell biochemical analyses, such as cloning or the polymerase chain reaction.

Qin says the next priority is to develop the prototype into a device that can be mass-produced and commercialized.

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