Photothermal nanofibres enable safe engineering of therapeutic cells

Nanoparticle-sensitized photoporation is an upcoming approach for the intracellular delivery of biologics, combining high efficiency and throughput with excellent cell viability. However, as it relies on close contact between nanoparticles and cells, its translation towards clinical applications is hampered by safety and regulatory concerns. Here we show that light-sensitive iron oxide nanoparticles embedded in biocompatible electrospun nanofibres induce membrane permeabilization by photothermal effects without direct cellular contact with the nanoparticles. The photothermal nanofibres have been successfully used to deliver effector molecules, including CRISPR–Cas9 ribonucleoprotein complexes and short interfering RNA, to adherent and suspension cells, including embryonic stem cells and hard-to-transfect T cells, without affecting cell proliferation or phenotype. In vivo experiments furthermore demonstrated successful tumour regression in mice treated with chimeric antibody receptor T cells in which the expression of programmed cell death protein 1 (PD1) is downregulated after nanofibre photoporation with short interfering RNA to PD1. In conclusion, cell membrane permeabilization with photothermal nanofibres is a promising concept towards the safe and more efficient production of engineered cells for therapeutic applications, including stem cell or adoptive T cell therapy.

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