A research team at Penn State has developed a more efficient and cost-effective approach to genetically engineer human cells to produce gas vesicles (GVs), tiny bubble-like structures that can significantly improve medical imaging. GVs are naturally produced by certain microorganisms and control the organisms’ buoyancy in water. By integrating specific DNA constructs and a clock-like system into the cells, the team was able to trigger the production of GVs within the cells at the right time without the need for labor-intensive single-cell cloning. The addition of drug-resistant genes allowed for the isolation of a uniform group of genetically modified cells capable of producing GVs.
Ultrasound is a non-invasive imaging method that uses sound waves to create images of internal anatomy. GVs could potentially replace currently approved ultrasound agents, such as microbubbles, as GVs are smaller and can be used for molecular imaging. When hit with ultrasound waves, GVs change shape, and the resulting signal can be detected and visualized with an ultrasound system, allowing for the imaging of deep tissue structures, even several centimeters deep. This technology could have numerous applications in therapeutic medical interventions, such as continuously monitoring transplanted therapeutic cells in real-time.
The research team has made their DNA constructs available through a nonprofit plasmid repository, enabling researchers worldwide to access and utilize their work.
“Novel approach to engineering human cells”: Bioengineering and Translational Medicine (2023) DOI: 10.1002/btm2.10584