Electroporation is a physical method to increase permeabilization of cell membrane by electrical pulses. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) can potentially act like “lighting rods” or exhibit direct physical force on cell membrane under alternating electromagnetic fields thus reducing the required field strength. A cell poration/ablation system was built for exploring these effects of CNTs in which two-electrode sets were constructed and two perpendicular electric fields could be generated sequentially. By applying this system to breast cancer cells in the presence of multi-walled CNTs (MWCNTs), the effective pulse amplitude was reduced to 50 V/cm (main field)/15 V/cm (alignment field) at the optimized pulse frequency (5 Hz) of 500 pulses. Under these conditions instant cell membrane permeabilization was increased to 38.62%, 2.77-fold higher than that without CNTs. Moreover, we also observed irreversible electroporation occurred under these conditions, such that only 39.23% of the cells were viable 24 h post treatment, in contrast to 87.01% cell viability without presence of CNTs. These results indicate that CNT-enhanced electroporation has the potential for tumour cell ablation by significantly lower electric fields than that in conventional electroporation therapy thus avoiding potential risks associated with the use of high intensity electric pulses.
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