Membranes formed in-lab from nano-droplets could have future use in medicines

For the first time, researchers from the Laboratory of Materials and Interface Chemistry, Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE), with a significant contribution of assistant professor Joe Patterson, have made a comprehensive video of liquid membrane formation using a transmission electron microscope (TEM). They used soap-like nanodroplets submerged in water to create the membrane. Their results are published in Nature, Chemistry and have been highlighted in the Nature, Chemistry News & Views article ‘The molecular Lego movie’.

LPEM Movie of the in-situ self-assembly experiment. Stabilized and cropped. Ianiro, A. et al. Nat. Chem. (2019)

This experiment has continuously recorded the whole process of how the membrane is formed under a microscope. Before this, scientists had to freeze the final membrane and get a snapshot of one or several moments of the membrane forming. This advance is achieved due to a well controlled liquid environment and can be now set in the microscope thanks to the DENSsolutions Ocean system.

Screenshots from the video of the membrane forming on the silicon chip. These were taken using a transmission electron microscope. You can watch the full video here. Ianiro, A. et al. Nat. Chem. (2019)

Membranes are of great interest in research as their selective barriers have potential uses in many fields: drug delivery, water treatment and chemical processes all rely on membrane technology. They are of particular interest in pharmaceutical research as they are the ideal shape to transport a drug through the body and release it only when the membrane finds a specific type of cell, for example, a cancer cell.

The Experiment

The researchers from the Materials and Interface Chemistry group led by Prof. Nico Sommerdijk formed a membrane from soap-like molecules called amphiphilic molecules, which simply means that they interact with both fats and water. Amphiphilic molecules are good building blocks for membranes as they can be lined up with the water-interacting side facing one way and the lipid-interacting parts facing the other way to form larger structures.

The DENSsolutions Ocean In Situ TEM liquid system was essential in this research. The core of the system consists of a dual chip Nano-Cell that sandwiches two chips together to form a microfluidic compartment.

First, the chambers within the tip surrounding the Nano-Cell were flooded with an amphiphilic solvent in order for it to fill the compartment. Then, the solvent was expelled with air, leaving the compartment saturated. Finally, the tip was flooded with water which gradually diffused into the compartment. It was during this stage that the water particles encouraged the solvent particles to organise themselves into a membrane structure.

Step 1. Polymer solvent

Step 2. Air

Step 3. Water

The membrane itself formed in stages. First, the solvent molecules arranged themselves into nanodroplets with a hydrophobic core and a protective hydrophilic shell. The DENSsolutions Nano-Cell created a hotspot of these nanodroplets and they gradually arranged themselves into a hollow membrane.

Diagram of the amphiphilic membrane forming in water. Arash Nikoubashman and Friederike Schmid.

Future Research

Watching how the nanoparticles form and arrange themselves with an electron microscope is a huge step in learning how to manipulate these membranes. The techniques covered in this research will be of interest to scientists working in food science, synthesis chemistry and separation science.

Hanglong Wu, who made a significant contribution to this paper during his PhD period, commented in an interview with DENSsolutions, that the technique “has been extensively used in studying the dynamics and structures of hard materials (for example, metallic nanoparticles) in the aqueous solution in the last decade, but it has been barely employed into soft matter field, mainly due to the inherent high beam sensitivity and low contrast.

“In this Nat. Chem. paper, we actually demonstrate we can probe the soft matter formation with such high contrast. People for sure will start to use the technique in the soft matter field.” – Hanglong Wu

The next stage will be fine-tuning how to manipulate the size and shape of the membrane. This research from Eindhoven is an important step in an exciting field.

If you are interested in the equipment we provided for this research, then contact us to see how we can streamline your experiments.

Membranes formed in-lab from nano-droplets could have future use in medicines

For the first time, researchers from the Laboratory of Materials and Interface Chemistry, Eindhoven University of Technology (TUE), with a significant contribution of assistant professor Joe Patterson, have made a comprehensive video of liquid membrane formation using a transmission electron microscope (TEM). They used soap-like nanodroplets submerged in water to create the membrane. Their results are published in Nature, Chemistry and have been highlighted in the Nature, Chemistry News & Views article ‘The molecular Lego movie’.

LPEM Movie of the in-situ self-assembly experiment. Stabilized and cropped. Ianiro, A. et al. Nat. Chem. (2019)

This experiment has continuously recorded the whole process of how the membrane is formed under a microscope. Before this, scientists had to freeze the final membrane and get a snapshot of one or several moments of the membrane forming. This advance is achieved due to a well controlled liquid environment and can be now set in the microscope thanks to the DENSsolutions Ocean system.

Screenshots from the video of the membrane forming on the silicon chip. These were taken using a transmission electron microscope. You can watch the full video here. Ianiro, A. et al. Nat. Chem. (2019)

Membranes are of great interest in research as their selective barriers have potential uses in many fields: drug delivery, water treatment and chemical processes all rely on membrane technology. They are of particular interest in pharmaceutical research as they are the ideal shape to transport a drug through the body and release it only when the membrane finds a specific type of cell, for example, a cancer cell.

The Experiment

The researchers from the Materials and Interface Chemistry group led by Prof. Nico Sommerdijk formed a membrane from soap-like molecules called amphiphilic molecules, which simply means that they interact with both fats and water. Amphiphilic molecules are good building blocks for membranes as they can be lined up with the water-interacting side facing one way and the lipid-interacting parts facing the other way to form larger structures.

The DENSsolutions Ocean In Situ TEM liquid system was essential in this research. The core of the system consists of a dual chip Nano-Cell that sandwiches two chips together to form a microfluidic compartment.

First, the chambers within the tip surrounding the Nano-Cell were flooded with an amphiphilic solvent in order for it to fill the compartment. The solvent was then expelled with air, leaving the compartment saturated. Then, the solvent was expelled with air, leaving the compartment saturated. Finally, the tip was flooded with water which gradually diffused into the compartment. It was during this stage that the water particles encouraged the solvent particles to organise themselves into a membrane structure.

Step 1. Polymer solvent

Step 2. Air

Step 3. Water

The membrane itself formed in stages. First, the solvent molecules arranged themselves into nanodroplets with a hydrophobic core and a protective hydrophilic shell. The DENSsolutions Nano-Cell created a hotspot of these nanodroplets and they gradually arranged themselves into a hollow membrane.

Diagram of the amphiphilic membrane forming in water. Arash Nikoubashman and Friederike Schmid.

Future Research

Watching how the nanoparticles form and arrange themselves with an electron microscope is a huge step in learning how to manipulate these membranes. The techniques covered in this research will be of interest to scientists working in food science, synthesis chemistry and separation science.

Hanglong Wu, who made a significant contribution to this paper during his PhD period, commented in an interview with DENSsolutions, that the technique “has been extensively used in studying the dynamics and structures of hard materials (for example, metallic nanoparticles) in the aqueous solution in the last decade, but it has been barely employed into soft matter field, mainly due to the inherent high beam sensitivity and low contrast.

“In this Nat. Chem. paper, we actually demonstrate we can probe the soft matter formation with such high contrast. People for sure will start to use the technique in the soft matter field.” – Hanglong Wu

The next stage will be fine-tuning how to manipulate the size and shape of the membrane. This research from Eindhoven is an important step in an exciting field.

If you are interested in the equipment we provided for this research, then contact us to see how we can streamline your experiments.