Living cells inside our bodies are normally surrounded by an extracellular matrix, a supporting structure, that contains substances such as collagen and enzymes that help cells to function properly. When disease, particularly cancer, is present, the extracellular matrix tends to stiffen. This stiffening can be an indicator of disease arrival and its progression, but performing a stiffness test at very small scales without injury to the cells and their extracellular matrices has proven difficult.
Now, researchers from Purdue University are reporting in journal Lab on a Chip on a new device that can take samples of extracellular matrices and quickly perform stiffness tests on them. Because the technology is non-destructive and only uses transient sound waves, the samples are not significantly affected by the testing. There’s no squishing or stretching involved, so the samples can be tested repeatedly to see how their status progresses over time.
“It’s the same concept as checking for damage in an airplane wing,” said Rahim Rahimi, one of the lead researchers, in a Purdue press release. “There’s a sound wave propagating through the material and a receiver on the other side. The way that the wave propagates can indicate if there’s any damage or defect without affecting the material itself.”
The lab-on-a-chip device has a tiny ultrasound generator and a detector separated by empty space. A sample of cells surrounded by their matrix is placed in the opening and the device is then activated to transmit ultrasonic waves through the sample. The receiving sensor outputs its readings to a computer that displays them for interpretation.
Because of its simplicity, the detectors of the device can be multiplied to be able to test hundreds or thousands of samples at the same time. Such capabilities would let researchers perform large scale stiffness testing of how diseases impact cells, potentially providing new information for scientists to apply in fighting those diseases.
Here’s a Purdue University video presenting this latest research:
Study in journal Lab on a Chip: A lab-on-chip ultrasonic platform for real-time and nondestructive assessment of extracellular matrix stiffness
Via: Purdue University