Fast, noninvasive technique for probing cells may reveal disease

Wednesday, August 2, 2017 - 23:32 in Physics & Chemistry

The stiffness or elasticity of a cell can reveal much about whether the cell is healthy or diseased. Cancer cells, for instance, are known to be softer than normal, while asthma-affected cells can be rather stiff. Determining the mechanical properties of cells may thus help doctors diagnose and track the progression of certain diseases. Current methods for doing this involve directly probing cells with expensive instruments, such as atomic force microscopes and optical tweezers, which make direct, invasive contact with the cells. Now MIT engineers have devised a way to assess a cell’s mechanical properties simply by observation. The researchers use standard confocal microscopy to zero in on the constant, jiggling motions of a cell’s particles — telltale movements that can be used to decipher a cell’s stiffness. Unlike optical tweezers, the team’s technique is noninvasive, running little risk of altering or damaging a cell while probing its contents. “There are several diseases,...

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