Tissue lithography will enable physicians and researchers to obtain macromolecules with high purity (>90 percent) from desired cells in conventionally processed, clinical tissues by simply annotating the desired cells on a computer screen. After identifying the desired cells, a suitable lithography mask will be generated to protect the contents of the desired cells while allowing destruction of all undesired cells by irradiation with ultraviolet light. The DNA from the protected cells can be used in a number of downstream applications including DNA sequencing. The purity (i.e., macromolecules isolated form specific cell types) of such specimens will greatly enhance the value and information of downstream applications.

In this method, the specific cells are isolated on a microscope slide using photolithography, which will be faster, more specific, and less expensive than current methods. It relies on the fact that many biological molecules such as DNA are photosensitive and can be destroyed by ultraviolet irradiation. Therefore, it is possible to “protect” the contents of desired cells, yet destroy undesired cells. This approach leverages the technologies of the microelectronics industry, which can make features smaller than 1 μm with photolithography.

A variety of ways has been created to achieve identification of the desired cell, and also to designate the other cells for destruction. This can be accomplished through chrome masks, direct laser writing, and also active masking using dynamic arrays. Image recognition is envisioned as one method for identifying cell nuclei and cell membranes. The pathologist can identify the cells of interest using a microscopic computerized image of the slide, and appropriate custom software.

In one of the approaches described in this work, the software converts the selection into a digital mask that can be fed into a direct laser writer, e.g. the Heidelberg DWL66. Such a machine uses a metalized glass plate (with chrome metallization) on which there is a thin layer of photoresist. The laser transfers the digital mask onto the photoresist by direct writing, with typical best resolution of 2 μm. The plate is then developed to remove the exposed photoresist, which leaves the exposed areas susceptible to chemical chrome etch. The etch removes the unprotected chrome. The rest of the photoresist is then removed, by either ultraviolet organic solvent or overdevelopment. The remaining chrome pattern is quickly oxidized by atmospheric exposure (typically within 30 seconds).

The ready chrome mask is now applied to the tissue slide and aligned manually, or using automatic software and pre-designed alignment marks. The slide plate sandwich is then exposed to UV to destroy the DNA of the unwanted cells. The slide and plate are separated and the slide is processed in a standard way to prepare for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and potential identification of cancer sequences.

This work was done by Lawrence A. Wade of Caltech and Emil Kartalov, Darryl Shibata, and Clive Taylor of the University of Southern California for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to: Innovative Technology Assets Management JPL Mail Stop 202-233 4800 Oak Grove Drive Pasadena, CA 91109-8099 E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. NPO-47507

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Tissue Photolithography

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This article first appeared in the October, 2011 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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