Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Probing Cell Mechanics

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Probing Cell Mechanics

Article excerpt

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.

The research team used an instrument called an atomic force microscope to study three distinctly different types of cells and demonstrate the method's potentially broad applications.

For example, the technique could be used to study how cells adhere to tissues, which is critical for many disease and biological processes; how cells move and change shape; how cancer cells evolve during metastasis; and how cells react to mechanical stimuli needed to stimulate production of vital proteins. The technique could be used to study the mechanical properties of cells under the influence of antibiotics and drugs that suppress cancer to learn more about the mechanisms involved.

"There's been a growing realization of the role of mechanics in cell biology and indeed a lot of effort in building models to explain how cells feel, respond, and communicate mechanically both in health and disease," says Sonia Contera, a paper coauthor. "With this paper, we provide a tool to start addressing some of these questions quantitatively: This is a big step."

An atomic force microscope uses a tiny vibrating probe 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 "mapping" the mechanical properties of the tiniest cellular structures. …

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