Heatedly roaming the halls of the University of Buffalo, two scientists have been working on a way to remotely control cells and tiny microscopic worms. Thanks to the use of nanoparticles, magnetic resonance fields and a whole lot of awesome, they've found it.
Ufnivertsity of Buffalo doctoral student Heng Huang and UB physics professor Arnd Pralle have been slaving away over a hot nanoparticle for months now, perfecting a method by which these tiniest of particles could be used to not only trigger specific behaviors within cells, but also cause directed responses in animals, most notably the C. elegans nematode, which looks like a microscopic worm but should totally put "the third" behind its name.
After injecting magnetically sensitive nanoparticles near the "mouths" of the worms, known as the "amhpid", the team introduced a magnetic resonance which caused the nanoparticles and the surrounding cell membrane to heat up. The cell itself remained unchanged in temperature, and thanks to delicate handling by the Buffalo brainiacs, the sensitive nanoparticles did not simply slouch into their pyjama pants and consume gallons of nanoicrecream, but instead did exactly what they were supposed to do - diffuse and get hot.
Since the nanoparticles are only six nanometers in width, they are easily able to mingle in and around the cell membrane without affecting the function of the cell, and their tiny nature means that the heat they generate after exposure to a magnetic field is not enough to penetrate the cell membrane itself.
It is enough, however, to get worms to turn the hell around. As the video below shows, little C. elegans the thirds are just crawling along, happy to be wormy, when all of a sudden they change direction. What happened? The temperate surrounding their amphids ramped up to 34 degrees celcius, which provoked a natural "get away get away right now!" response.
By using a fluorescent probe developed in conjunction with this work, Huang and Pralle were able to precisely measure the temperate of their nanoparticles, so as to not overwhelm the worms.
The hope is that calibrated magnetic resonance will be used to target nanoparticles injected in or around certain cancer cells in order to trigger specific reactions to speed recovery or limit growth, and also to target insulin producers in diabetics and make them get back on the creative bandwagon.
Turns out that a great deal of behaviour, micro and macroscopic, is determined by heat.
Some like it hot. Magnetically so.
Source: University of Buffalo