New imaging technology could reveal cellular secrets

April 25, 2013 by Emil Venere
This image illustrates the concept for a new type of technology that combines two biological imaging methods -- atomic force microscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance -- to create a new way to study cancer-cell metastasis and other disease-related processes. (Purdue University image/ Xin Xu) Credit: Purdue University/ Xin Xu

(Phys.org) —Researchers have married two biological imaging technologies, creating a new way to learn how good cells go bad.

"Let's say you have a large population of cells," said Corey Neu, an assistant professor in Purdue University's Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. "Just one of them might metastasize or proliferate, forming a . We need to understand what it is that gives rise to that one bad cell."

Such an advance makes it possible to simultaneously study the mechanical and biochemical behavior of cells, which could provide new insights into disease processes, said biomedical engineering postdoctoral fellow Charilaos "Harris" Mousoulis.

Being able to study a cell's internal workings in fine detail would likely yield insights into the physical and biochemical responses to its environment. The technology, which combines an atomic force microscope and nuclear magnetic resonance system, could help researchers study individual , for example, to uncover mechanisms leading up to for research and diagnostics.

The prototype's capabilities were demonstrated by taking spectra of hydrogen atoms in water. Findings represent a of the technology and are detailed in a research paper that appeared online April 11 in the journal Applied Physics Letters. The paper was co-authored by Mousoulis; research scientist Teimour Maleki; Babak Ziaie, a professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Neu.

"You could detect many different types of , but in this case hydrogen is nice to detect because it's abundant," Neu said. "You could detect carbon, nitrogen and other elements to get more detailed information about specific biochemistry inside a cell."

An (AFM) uses a tiny vibrating probe called a cantilever to yield information about materials and surfaces on the scale of nanometers, or billionths of a meter. Because the instrument enables scientists to "see" objects far smaller than possible using light microscopes, it could be ideal for studying molecules, cell membranes and other biological structures.

However, the AFM does not provide information about the biological and chemical properties of cells. So the researchers fabricated a metal microcoil on the AFM cantilever. An electrical current is passed though the coil, causing it to exchange electromagnetic radiation with protons in molecules within the cell and inducing another current in the coil, which is detected.

The Purdue researchers perform "mechanobiology" studies to learn how forces exerted on cells influence their behavior. In work focusing on osteoarthritis, their research includes the study of cartilage cells from the knee to learn how they interact with the complex matrix of structures and biochemistry between cells.

Future research might include studying cells in "microfluidic chambers" to test how they respond to specific drugs and environmental changes.

A U.S. patent application has been filed for the concept. The research has been funded by Purdue's Showalter Trust Fund and the National Institutes of Health.

Explore further: Virtual world is sign of future for scientists, engineers

More information: Atomic Force Microscopy-Coupled Microcoils for Cellular-Scale Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.4801318

Related Stories

Discovery to aid study of biological structures, molecules

August 11, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers in the United States and Spain have discovered that a tool widely used in nanoscale imaging works differently in watery environments, a step toward better using the instrument to study biological ...

New medical, research tool possible by probing cell mechanics

November 21, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers are making progress in developing a system that measures the mechanical properties of living cells, a technology that could be used to diagnose human disease and better understand biological processes.

Recommended for you

Better together: graphene-nanotube hybrid switches

August 2, 2015

Graphene has been called a wonder material, capable of performing great and unusual material acrobatics. Boron nitride nanotubes are no slackers in the materials realm either, and can be engineered for physical and biological ...

Reshaping the solar spectrum to turn light to electricity

July 28, 2015

When it comes to installing solar cells, labor cost and the cost of the land to house them constitute the bulk of the expense. The solar cells—made often of silicon or cadmium telluride—rarely cost more than 20 percent ...

Meet the high-performance single-molecule diode

July 29, 2015

A team of researchers from Berkeley Lab and Columbia University has passed a major milestone in molecular electronics with the creation of the world's highest-performance single-molecule diode. Working at Berkeley Lab's Molecular ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.