A new method of injecting molecules into cells could be the key to treating life-threatening diseases, says a group of MIT researchers. The platform, called CellSqueeze, was developed by start-up SQZ Biotech (pronounced “squeeze”) and involves pumping cells through a system of channels that temporarily deforms them, creating pores where molecules can be inserted. Ultimately, SQZ aims to use its technology in cancer therapies, by training patients’ immune systems to attack cancerous cells.
Traditional methods of inserting genetic materials or drugs into cells are typically expensive and time-consuming, and involve injecting cells with chemicals or shocking the cells with electricity—often killing the cells in the process. Squeezing cells is 10–100 times more effective as these existing methods, according to a team of researchers—led by Armon Sharei PhD ’13—from the labs of Klavs Jensen, MIT’s Warren K. Lewis Professor of Chemical Engineering, and MIT Institute Professor Robert Langer.
“SQZ’s system has shown that it can deliver many materials, such as proteins, small molecules, and RNA, to immune cells more efficiently and with less toxicity than existing technologies,” Langer said in a recent interview with MIT Technology Review.
In addition to Jensen, Langer, and Sharei, MIT affiliates at SQZ include Agustin Lopez Marquez SM ’10; Jonathan Gilbert SM ’11, PhD ’14; Harrison Bralower ’11, SM ’13; and Katarina Blagovic, a researcher at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.