According to a proposal, laser-induced acoustic shock waves would be used to lyse cells as needed for biomolecular investigations, including, for example, diagnosis of diseases, pregnancy tests, analyses of genetic molecular structures, and general analyses of cell chemistry. Heretofore, it has been common practice to suspend cells in liquid buffers and to introduce lysing chemicals into the buffers. While chemical lysis is effective, it contributes to the cost and complexity of analysis and creates a problem of disposal of additional chemical waste, especially in situations in which many samples must be analyzed. By eliminating the need for lysing chemicals, the proposed technique would reduce the cost, complexity, and need for post-analysis waste disposal.

A Pulsed, Focused Laser Beam would induce acoustic shock waves in a liquid buffer. Cells suspended in the buffer would be lysed by the shock waves.

In the proposed technique, a sample of cells would be suspended in a liquid buffer as before, but instead of treating the suspension with lysing chemicals, the suspension would be pumped through an optically accessible channel. The beam from a pulsed diode laser would be focused into the channel (see figure). The energy deposited locally in the buffer by the focused pulses would be sufficient to induce acoustic shock waves, which would lyse cells in or near the focal spot.

This work was done by Robert Stirbl and Philip Moynihan of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at under the Bio-Medical category.

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

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Refer to NPO-30410, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Laser-Induced Shock Waves Would Lyse Cells for Analysis

(reference NPO-30410) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the July, 2002 issue of Photonics Tech Briefs Magazine.

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