RNA isolation is a ubiquitous need, driven by current emphasis on micro-arrays and miniaturization. With commercial systems requiring 100,000 to 1,000,000 cells for successful isolation, there is a growing need for a small-footprint, easy-to-use device that can harvest nucleic acids from much smaller cell samples (1,000 to 10,000 cells). The process of extraction of RNA from cell cultures is a complex, multi-step one, and requires timed, asynchronous operations with multiple reagents/buffers. An added complexity is the fragility of RNA (subject to degradation) and its reactivity to surface.

A novel, microfluidics-based, integrated cartridge has been developed that can fully automate the complex process of RNA isolation (lyse, capture, and elute RNA) from small cell culture samples. On-cartridge cell lysis is achieved using either reagents or high-strength electric fields made possible by the miniaturized format. Traditionally, silica-based, porousmembrane formats have been used for RNA capture, requiring slow perfusion for effective capture. In this design, high efficiency capture/elution are achieved using a microsphere-based “microfluidized” format. Electrokinetic phenomena are harnessed to actively mix micro - spheres with the cell lysate and capture/elution buffer, providing important advantages in extraction efficiency, processing time, and operational flexibility. Successful RNA isolation was demonstrated using both suspension (HL-60) and adherent (BHK-21) cells.

Novel features associated with this development are twofold. First, novel designs that execute needed processes with improved speed and efficiency were developed. These primarily encompass electricfield- driven lysis of cells. The configurations include electrode-containing constructs, or an “electrode-less” chip design, which is easy to fabricate and mitigates fouling at the electrode surface; and the “fluidized” extraction format based on electrokinetically assisted mixing and contacting of microbeads in a shape-optimized chamber. A secondary proprietary feature is in the particular layout integrating these components to perform the desired operation of RNA isolation.

Apart from a novel functional capability, advantages of the innovation include reduced or eliminated use of toxic reagents, and operator-independent extraction of RNA.

This work was done by Shivshankar Sundaram, Balabhaskar Prabhakarpandian, Kapil Pant, and Yi Wang of CFD Research Corp. for Johnson Space Center.

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:

CFD Research Corp.
215 Wynn Dr.
Huntsville, AL 35805
Phone No.: (256) 726-4800
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the January, 2014 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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