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Electroporation: What is it and what’s it used for?

21st March 2022


What is Electroporation?

Electroporation is the use of electrical pulses or an electrical field to create a physical opening into a cell membrane. We use this revolutionary technology in our EPN pen device, for more efficient delivery of products into the skin cells themselves. There are actually two kinds of Electroporation there’s reversible and irreversible, but we will talk a little bit more about that later on…

How does Electroporation work?

In the cell wall or the cell membrane of your skin cells you have phospholipids in a bilayer formation, as shown in diagram 1. Meaning two different layers of lipids, arranged as shown. These lipids have a head (the round bit!) formed of phosphates and glycerol, which is negatively charged. While the tails are nonpolar (which means they’re uncharged).

How does Electroporation work diagram 1

Diagram 1: Phospholipid bilayer in skin cell wall

These heads are very hydrophilic, which means they like water and so are attracted to the fluids surrounding the cell and they will allow things to pass through them. However, the tails are very hydrophobic (they don’t like water) so they cause a really good barrier between the inside and the outside of your skin cell.

Before we apply Electroporation, you have what’s called a resting electrical potential across the cell membrane. Now what that actually means is you have both negative and positively charged molecules inside the skin cell and you also have some negatively and positively charged molecules outside the skin cell. We say this is a resting electrical potential because its balanced, you can imagine this as an elastic band before it’s stretched, it’s resting, everything is nice and even across the membrane.

Skin Cell Before Electroporation

Diagram 2: Skin Cell Before Electroporation

What then happens is we apply an electrical field. This field has a positive and a negative side to it. This means that all the negatively charged molecules on the outside of the skin cell are attracted to the positive side of that field, so you get this layer of negative charge building on the outside of the skin cell closest to the positive side of the field, the same is true but reversed on the other side of the skin cell.

The positive and negatively charged molecules inside the cell are then attracted to the negative and positive charges building on the outside of the cell and build up on the inside to balance the charge.

Electroporation increasing the electrical potential energy across the cell membrane

Diagram 3: Electroporation increases the electrical potential energy across the cell membrane

As these charges are attracted to each other and are trying to push towards each other (like magnets would) we’re increasing the electrical potential energy across the cell membrane.

Again, imagine our elastic band only now we’re stretching it. It’s tense, there’s energy stored in that band because you’ve stretched it and it’s trying to pull back together, but the energy is not going anywhere yet, it’s potential energy.

The more we increase the electrical field, the more potential energy we’re building (the more we’re stretching that elastic band) across the cell membrane. Once that electrical potential gets high enough, (once we stretch that elastic band far enough) eventually it kind of snaps.
All these charged particles are pushing towards each other and if our electrical potential gets high enough it actually pushes all the way through, and you create a physical opening in the cell membrane. We call this a pore.

Increasing electrical potential across the skin cell membrane

Diagram 4: Increasing electrical potential across the skin cell membrane

Electroporation creates a pore in the skin cell membrane

Diagram 5: Electroporation creates a pore in the skin cell membrane

Reversible electroporation creates a temporary pore

Diagram 6: Reversible electroporation creates a temporary pore

This pore can either be temporary (in reversible electroporation), or permanent (in irreversible electroporation). Reversible electroporation is what we use with the EPN Pen.

What are the differences between reversible and irreversible Electroporation?

Reversible Electroporation uses lower levels of electrical field, and it creates pores that are temporary, they close up minutes after the treatment. This is used for drug delivery, active ingredient delivery and it’s been used in genealogy. This is the type of Electroporation we’re using with the EPN pen.

Where as, Irreversible Electroporation uses much higher levels of electrical field and so it still creates pores into the cell membrane, but these are permanent pores. They don’t close. These permanent pores are also much bigger and allow leakage of enzymes, they allow loss of components within the cell (they sort of leak out) but it also allows calcium ions into the cell which can damage the mitochondria in the cell, which causes cell death within seconds.

Irreversible Electroporation has been used in medicine it’s been used in research and also in food sanitisation for 30 years.

Another really interesting application is using Irreversible Electroporation as a treatment to ablate local, solid tumours in cancer patients. This is done by creating the permanent pores within the cells of the tumour itself, causing them to die and be physically ablated.

There are a few other methods of ablation; radiotherapy, microwave therapy or cryotherapy but they all rely on thermal energy, which means you can get the spread of heat to surrounding areas, potentially damaging surrounding tissue and causing complications. With Irreversible Electroporation, we’re using an electrical energy without that thermal energy so you don’t have any concerns about heat spreading and damaging surrounding tissue which means fewer complications.

The other benefit that they found using Electroporation to treat cancer tumours is that it only affects the cell membrane, and it doesn’t damage surrounding tissue, this is due to excess collagen present there.

The very first clinically approved irreversible Electroporation for ablating solid local tumours was back in 2007 using a technology called the NanoKnife.

What are the benefits of Electroporation?

The pores that we’re creating can be thought of as a physical opening of the cell membrane. This is important as it’s actually very hard to get big molecules of products such as hyaluronic acid, vitamins, amino acids, growth factors or drugs physically inside a skin cell, purely because of the size of those molecules. You’re trying to push them through this intact cell membrane. Electroporation mitigates this by physically opening the cell membrane up. We create a bigger gap which allows that product into the skin cell. Meaning that when we are pushing active ingredients or drugs into the skin, they are much more efficiently absorbed by the skin cell. This is what we do at Lynton in combination with microneedling with the fantastic EPN Pen.

What are the benefits of the EPN Pen?

By combining the well-known wound healing effect and collagen induction of traditional microneedling, with the boosted product absorption from electroporation the EPN Pen gives us phenomenal results on fine lines and wrinkles, acne and surgical scars, hair restoration, skin tone, stretch marks, skin texture, skin laxity and reducing open pores.

Is Electroporation on the EPN Pen safe?

Yes! The levels of electrical field produced with the EPN pen are never going to be strong enough to cause irreversible electroporation, meaning there is no chance of causing cell death or damage to the cells themselves. Electroporation is a well known technology within the medical field and has been used for many years for genealogy, chemotherapy and drug delivery with little evidence of any unwanted reactions.

How can I find out more?

Get in touch to speak to one of our product specialists, or read more about the EPN Pen here.













Expansion of Premises to Facilitate Entry into Export Markets

To facilitate its entry into new export markets, Lynton Lasers Ltd required increased manufacturing space, as well as new demonstration and training facilities. To this end, LEADER Funding was applied for, and won, to support the refurbishment of an adjacent business unit (Unit 9d) as well as the re-arrangement and refurbishment of the existing business unit (Unit 6) on Holmes Chapel Business Park.

This Project was part funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development

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