Penn Researcher develops “SAFE” Method: Novel technique to monitor changes in living cells and tissues

A novel technique developed by Jina Ko, PhD, Assistant Professor, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, will change the way researchers can monitor changes in living cells and tissues. Until now, researchers have been limited to adding a small number of markers due to spectral overlaps in fluorescence microscopy — an essential tool required for imaging cells — making it difficult to monitor protein expression or create a comprehensive profile of living cells. 

While previous methods require harsh chemicals that strip off fluorophores and consequently would not work with living cells and tissues, the new method, “scission-accelerated fluorophore exchange (or SAFE),” presents a gentler approach utilizing “click” chemistry, a type of chemistry that follows examples found in nature to create fast and simple reactions. This research will allow researchers to effectively perform multiple cycles of cell profiling and can monitor cellular changes over the course of their observations.

In the lab, Dr. Ko’s work focuses on developing robust molecular-based diagnostics for better understanding and treatment of diseases such as cancer and neurological diseases. “This method can be used to profile patient-derived brain organoids to provide better understanding on neurodegenerative disorders and aging-related research,” she said. 

Dr. Ko is also the awardee of the 2022 Penn Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) Developmental Project. Her project, Single Extracellular Vesicle (EV) BEAMing for Early Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), aims to develop an ultra-high sensitive single EV BEAMing (beads, emulsion, amplification, magnetics) method that can profile EV at a single particle level, and apply it to diagnose AD before the onset of the disease, ultimately in hopes of providing the best possible clinical outcome. 

Read the full Penn Today feature here.

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