Scientists use acoustic tweezers for targeted cancer therapy


July 05, 2023

(Nanowerk News) Acoustic tweezers can control the target’s movement through the momentum interaction between the acoustic wave and the object. Due to their high tissue penetration and strong acoustic radiation forces, the tweezers overcome the limitations of optical and magnetic tweezers, making them suitable for in-vivo cell manipulation.

A research team led by Prof. ZHENG Hairong of the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology (SIAT) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) recently developed a new type of acoustic tweezers—the phased-array holographic acoustic tweezers (PAHAT) system—based on a high-density planar array transducer that capable of generating adjustable three-dimensional bulk acoustic waves. Researchers hope this system can realize a pharmacological version of “telekinesis”.

The study was published in Nature Communications (“In-vivo programmable acoustic manipulation of genetically engineered bacteria”). Setup diagram for in vivo cell manipulation using stepwise holographic acoustic tweezers Setup diagram for in vivo cell manipulation using TOOLS. (Image: SIAT) (click image to enlarge)

The in vivo environment is very complex, due to the different characteristics of various tissues, organs, bones, blood vessels, and blood vessels. Such a complex environment creates a major challenge: How can acoustic methods be used to “trap” bacteria so as to produce a therapeutic effect on tumors?

The team investigated dynamic target manipulation in complex environments using holographic acoustic fields. They then developed a high-density ultrasound transducer array, which makes it possible to generate a strong gradient acoustic field and employ precise spatiotemporal control.

The researchers then used gene editing to create sub-micrometer gas vesicles in the bacterial cells, increasing their acoustic sensitivity. These genetically engineered bacteria form clusters under the influence of radiation forces in an acoustic field. By combining microscopic imaging with PAHAT, researchers were able to achieve precise manipulation of bacterial clusters in live mice, thereby demonstrating a promising approach for targeted drug delivery and cellular therapy in cancer treatment.

Prof. MA Teng, one of the study’s authors, said the researchers were able to “precisely control bacteria to reach the lesion according to predetermined pathways,” while Prof. YAN Fei, one of the authors of the study, said that the manipulation technology enhances cluster aggregation in tumors, thereby effectively slowing tumor growth.

According to Prof. ZHENG, “CHICLES enables precise non-contact manipulation of cells in living organisms. Combined with functional cells and cell spheroids, THICK has great potential in immunotherapy, tissue engineering, targeted drug delivery and other fields.”


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