Cell therapy and cellular engineering begin with internalizing synthetic biomolecules and functional nanomaterials into primary cells. Conventionally, electroporation, lipofection, or viral transduction has been used; however, these are limited by their cytotoxicity, low scalability, cost, and/or preparation complexity, especially in primary cells. Thus, a universal intracellular delivery method that outperforms the existing methods must be established. Here, we present a versatile intracellular delivery platform that leverages intrinsic inertial flow developed in a T-junction microchannel with a cavity. The elongational recirculating flows exerted in the channel substantially stretch the cells, creating discontinuities on cell membranes, thereby enabling highly effective internalization of nanomaterials, such as plasmid DNA (7.9 kbp), mRNA, siRNA, quantum dots, and large nanoparticles (300 nm), into different cell types, including hard-to-transfect primary stem and immune cells. We identified that the internalization mechanism of external cargos during the cell elongation–restoration process is achieved by both passive diffusion and convection-based rapid solution exchange across the cell membrane. Using fluidic cell mechanoporation, we demonstrated a transfection yield superior to that of other state-of-the-art microfluidic platforms as well as current benchtop techniques, including lipofectamine and electroporation. In summary, the intracellular delivery platform developed in the present study enables a high delivery efficiency (up to 98%), easy operation (single-step), low material cost (<$1), high scalability (1 × 106 cells/min), minimal cell perturbation (up to 90%), and cell type/cargo insensitive delivery, providing a practical and robust approach anticipated to critically impact cell-based research.
KEYWORDS:intracellular delivery, macromolecule delivery, gene delivery, primary cell transfection, microfluidics, nanoparticle delivery