A tiny liquid marble (about 1mm in diameter) which has the capacity to grow nerve, stem and tumour cells and expedite drug discovery, is the basis of a new research project led by Griffith University researcher Dr Chin Hong Ooi from the Queensland Micro- and Nanotechnology Centre.
Dr Chin will develop a highly versatile platform to conduct three-dimensional (3D) cell culture, known as Dielectrophoretic Navigation of Innovative Liquid Marble-Based Cell Culture (DENICE).
“3D cell culture can more closely mimic the real-world environment compared to the conventional petri dish,’’ says Dr Chin, who has been awarded an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award.
“The additional dimension grants researchers an unprecedented view into obscure cellular interactions. The platform is based on applying electric fields to non-wetting droplets called liquid marbles. As a liquid marble straddles the fine line between being a solid and a liquid, it possesses numerous interesting properties.
“Apart from a host of fascinating physics, the tiny liquid marble has big potential real-world applications. Imagine a miniature bioreactor that fits onto your fingertips and is capable of growing cells with intricate structures as well as a wide range of chemical reactions.”
Such versatility has been exploited to grow nerve cells, stem cells, and tumour cells. The liquid marble is currently being developed to be an invaluable tool in the biomedical researcher’s inventory.
Dr Chin hopes the project will help to improve the success rates of clinical trials in the drug development effort.
“If we can reduce the time and cost required for important drugs to hit the market, we can help save lives,’’ he said.
As an added benefit, DENICE runs on reusable materials which can significantly reduce the pervasive contaminated plastic waste. This would be a huge step towards practical plastic-free technologies.
“We’d love to help save lives, but let’s keep the environment in mind while doing so.”