News Release

Robotic intracellular electrochemical sensing for adherent cells

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Beijing Institute of Technology Press Co., Ltd

The automated system for intracellular electrochemical sensing

image: The intracellular sensing robot automatically performs quantitative measurements on multiple cells. view more 

Credit: Weikang Hu, Southern University of Science and Technology

A research team from Southern University of Science and Technology developed an automated intracellular sensing system, which provides a high-efficiency approach to reveal cellular intrinsic characteristics and heterogeneity for better investigation of disease progression or early disease diagnosis. The new research paper was published on Sep. 2 in the journal Cyborg and Bionic Systems.


Measurement of intracellular biochemical processes is significant to quantitatively understand the function of biological systems. Nanopipette-based intracellular sensing is an in-situ, label-free and nondestructive measurement method. However, the small size of cells and nanopipette tip make it difficult to efficiently perform intracellular measurement by manual manipulation, posing a hurdle in attaining statistically significant data. Therefore, researchers designed a highly efficient and consistent intracellular sensing system by integrating automation technology.


First, the nanopipette-based sensor with a tip diameter of around 100 nm was designed, where a platinum ring on the nanopipette tip was used as a working electrode for the electrochemical sensing of reactive oxygen species (ROS). At the same time, the sensor was mounted on a high-precision micromanipulator with a motion resolution of 5 nm, and an inverted fluorescence microscope was used for visual feedback.


In addition, the team proposed a label-free cell detection algorithm, which can avoid the influence of fluorescent staining on cells and accurately locate the penetration sites for high-efficient intracellular measurement. The algorithm automatically moves the cells to a defocus plane to maximize the grayscale difference between the adherent cells and the background, thus simplifying cell detection and improving the cell recognition rate.


Besides, a non-overshoot nanopipette tip positioning was developed to avoid the tip damage caused by the tip colliding with the cell dish during autofocusing. Specifically, the normalized correlation coefficients during template matching at different z-axis positions were utilized as the focus measure to autofocus the nanopipette tip without overshooting and tip damage.


Furthermore, proximity detection based on ion current feedback was used to accurately determine the relative height between the nanopipette tip and the cell surface because of the highly varied thickness of the adherent cells. When the nanopipette tip approaches the cell, the tip will be gradually blocked by the cell, and the ionic current through the tip opening will decrease. Therefore, the relative height between the tip and the cell can be accurately measured.


Finally, the cell penetration and electrochemical detection of ROS were evaluated by human breast cancer cells and zebrafish embryo cells, and the variation of ROS signals indicates the system is capable of highly selective response to ROS and quantitatively measurement of intracellular ROS.


This work provides a systematic approach for automated intracellular sensing for adherent cells, laying a solid foundation for high-throughput detection, diagnosis, and classification of different forms of biochemical reactions within single cells. Besides, the proposed system will also have important applications in lineage tracing for developmental biology and high-resolution manipulation of organelles in living single cells for investigating the specific causes of diseases and the development of novel therapeutics.


Authors of the paper include Weikang Hu, Yanmei Ma, Zhen Zhan, Danish Hussain, and Chengzhi Hu.


This work is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (61903177), the Shenzhen Science and Technology Program (Grant No. JCYJ20190809144013494), and the Science and Technology Program of Guangdong (Grant No. 2021A1515011813). This work is supported in part by the Science, Technology and Innovation Commission of Shenzhen Municipality under grant no. ZDSYS20200811143601004 and in part by the Southern Marine Science and Engineering Guangdong Laboratory (Guangzhou). The authors acknowledge the assistance of SUSTech Core Research Facilities. We thank Prof. Dong Liu from the Department of Biology at the Southern University of Science and Technology for his provision of zebrafish embryos.


The paper, " Robotic Intracellular Electrochemical Sensing for Adherent Cells," was published in the journal Cyborg and Bionic Systems on September 2nd, 2022, at DOI:



Authors: Weikang Hu1, Yanmei Ma1, Zhen Zhan1, Danish Hussain1,2, and Chengzhi Hu1,3*

Title of original paper: Robotic Intracellular Electrochemical Sensing for Adherent Cells

Journal: Cyborg and Bionic Systems

DOI: 10.34133/2022/9763420



1 Shenzhen Key Laboratory of Biomimetic Robotics and Intelligent Systems, Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering, Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen, China

2 Department of Mechatronics Engineering, National University of Sciences and Technology, Islamabad, Pakistan

3 Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Human-Augmentation and Rehabilitation Robotics in Universities, Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen, China


A brief introduction about author Dr. Hu Chengzhi.

Chengzhi Hu obtained his Ph.D. degree from the Department of Micro-Nano Systems and Engineering at Nagoya University in 2014. He was a postdoctoral associate in the Multi-Scale Robotics Lab at ETH Zurich between 2014 and 2018. Since 2018, He is an associate professor of the Department of Mechanical and Energy Engineering at Southern University of Science and Technology, China. He has been engaged in the development of micro-/nano- robots, microfluidic chips, micro-/nano- tools, and other bioMEMS devices for use in biological analysis and biomedical applications.

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