Research center develops single-cell analyzer

May 29, 2015, Missouri University of Science and Technology

Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have developed a probe capable of detecting signs of disease or environmental change inside a single human cell.

Dr. Yinfa Ma, Curators' Teaching Professor of , and Dr. Honglan Shi, associate research professor of chemistry at Missouri S&T, worked with colleagues at Clemson University to develop a single-cell analyzer that can be used for research and many other applications.

"It's a novel design," Ma says. "Everybody would like to see what's going on in one cell – but how?"

With a collaborative effort, the team figured out how—and they applied for the patent in October 2014.

The work is funded through a $567,311 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.

To detect changes when a single cell is exposed to external variations caused by disease or , the team developed an optic-fiber with hexagonal strands surrounding a center fiber. Imagine a doctor's needle, and then scale it way, way down so the tip is 2 to 5 microns in size. When inserted into a cell, the probe's fluorescent nanomaterial-doped tip is used to detect either its pH change or corresponding temperature change.

"The pH change can come from the cell being under stress or exposed to harmful outside environmental factors such as drugs or toxic nanoparticles," Ma says.

The six strands surrounding the central fiber detect changes in the cell's reflected fluorescent signal when hit with a laser source attached to the probe. Data is collected using a detection device. Researchers then calculate the ratio in two ways: one looks at the peak fluorescent intensity and the reference intensity; the other measures the decay time of the phosphorescence, which is then calculated and correlated with the pH or temperature values.

As a cancer researcher, Ma is excited about how the single-cell research can advance knowledge in that field and others.

"Comprehensive understanding of a single cell in response to its biological environment and stimuli is becoming the foundation of many biomedical research fields, including drug development, nanotoxicity study, biomarker discovery, cancer diagnosis and treatment and many other areas," Ma says.

Explore further: Chameleon proteins make individual cells visible

Related Stories

Chameleon proteins make individual cells visible

May 19, 2015

Researchers discovered a new mechanism of how fluorescent proteins can change colour. It enables the microscopic visualization of individual cells in their three-dimensional environment in living organisms.

Using a new laser process to custom shape optical fibers

May 5, 2015

Modern medicine relies on optical fibers to cauterize unhealthy veins in a minimally invasive way. Now, Fraunhofer researchers have developed a laser processing method that facilitates automated series manufacture of these ...

Researcher invents 'lab on a chip' device to study malaria

February 28, 2012

University of British Columbia researcher Hongshen Ma has developed a simple and accurate device to study malaria, a disease that currently affects 500 million people per year worldwide and claims a million lives.

Cell imaging gets colorful

January 26, 2015

The detection and imaging of protein-protein interactions in live cells just got a lot more colourful, thanks to a new technology developed by University of Alberta chemist Dr. Robert E. Campbell and his team.

Recommended for you

Chemical waves guide to catalysts of the future

February 20, 2018

Spectacular electron microscope images at TU Wien lead to important findings: Chemical reactions can produce spiral-like multi-frequency waves and thus provide local information about catalysts.


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.