Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New Study Of Living Cells Could Revolutionize The Way We Test Drugs

Date:
April 14, 2007
Source:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Summary:
Researchers have made a breakthrough by detecting the electrical equivalent of a living cell's last gasp. The work takes them a step closer to both seeing the "heartbeat" of a living cell and a new way to test drugs.

An optical microscope image of a yeast cell (the round feature to the right) on top of the micron-sized detector used in the studies. The image is blurred because the cell is so small that large magnification is required in order to obtain the image.
Credit: Image courtesy of Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

Researchers have made a breakthrough by detecting the electrical equivalent of a living cell's last gasp. The work takes them a step closer to both seeing the 'heartbeat' of a living cell and a new way to test drugs.

To stay alive, individual biological cells must transfer electrically charged particles, called ions across their cell membranes. This flow produces an electrical current that could, in principle, be detected with sensitive enough equipment. The recognition of such electrical activity would provide a kind of 'cellular cardiogram', allowing the daily functioning of the cell to be monitored in a similar way to a cardiograph showing the workings of a human heart.

With funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Professor Andre Geim at the University of Manchester and his team have set out to make the first measurement of a cellular 'heartbeat'.

"Once we know the average or usual pattern of electrical activity in a cell, we can see how different drugs affect it," says Professor Geim. This would put an early safeguard into the system that could be applied long before the drug was tested on animals or even humans. In addition, the electrical activity test could be used to monitor the effects of pollution on naturally occurring micro-organisms in the environment.

To detect a cell's normal activity, Andre Geim and fellow researchers modified apparatus used originally to detect weak magnetic fields in superconductors*. Unfortunately, these modifications reduced the sensitivity of the technique, and the normal activity of the yeast cell could not be detected. This is the first time such a technique has been used on a living cell.

Not to be defeated, the researchers went about livening things up. They chose to invoke what any self-respecting party-goer would: alcohol. "We added ethanol -- which is essentially vodka -- to provoke a response from the cell. Ethanol is known to increase the transparency of cellular membranes which we hoped would give a signal we could detect," says Dr Irina Barbolina, who carried out the experiments.

It worked. As soon as the yeast got a taste of the vodka, the probe registered an electrical signal. A drunken hiccup perhaps? "It was probably the last gasp of the dying cell," says Professor Geim. The researchers had added so much ethanol that it poisoned the cell.

Although not the cardiogram they had hoped for, the electrical signal was the smallest yet detected from a living cell, around 100 times smaller than anything previously detected. It added up to an electrical current of just 10 moving electrons. It has given the team confidence that equipment sensitive enough to measure a cell's heartbeat can be developed.

"We already have some ideas about how to improve the sensitivity of the detector in water and next time we will also use a more active micro-organism such as an amoeba. Yeast is a subdued organism and doesn't generate much activity," says Professor Geim. "Probably, the most important outcome is that we defined an important goal. Cellular cardiograms can no longer be seen as absurd or science-fictional. If not us then someone else will soon develop a technique sensitive enough for such studies."

"Through the eyes of a physicist, life can be seen as a motion of ions, and even the most primitive forms of life - like yeast - should generate electrical currents around them. I think everyone would be curious to see the 'heartbeat' of an individual cell," says Andre Geim.

Detecting the electrical activity of human beings is already an established part of medical diagnostic procedures. Electrocardiograms and electroencephalograms are widespread techniques. In the brain, neurons are known to produce relatively high voltages when they fire, allowing brain activity to be monitored.

*Superconductors are materials that lose electrical resistance below a certain temperature. They modified the apparatus so that, instead of a superconductor, a single yeast cell was positioned inside, and the technique's operational range was extended from the ultra-low temperatures needed by superconductors to room temperature. Moreover, because yeast requires water to live, the researchers had to further modify their apparatus so it would work while immersed in a liquid solution.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. "New Study Of Living Cells Could Revolutionize The Way We Test Drugs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 April 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070411091748.htm>.
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. (2007, April 14). New Study Of Living Cells Could Revolutionize The Way We Test Drugs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070411091748.htm
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. "New Study Of Living Cells Could Revolutionize The Way We Test Drugs." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070411091748.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre

AP (July 29, 2014) Food scraps and other items left on the grounds by picnickers brings unwelcome visitors to the grounds of the world famous and popular Louvre Museum in Paris. (July 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jane Goodall Warns Great Apes Face Extinction

Jane Goodall Warns Great Apes Face Extinction

AFP (July 29, 2014) The world's great apes face extinction within decades, renowned chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall warned Tuesday in a call to arms to ensure man's closest relatives are not wiped out. Duration: 00:58 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

How Your Face Can Leave A Good Or Bad First Impression

Newsy (July 29, 2014) Researchers have found certain facial features can make us seem more attractive or trustworthy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rat Infestation at Paris' Tuileries Garden

Rat Infestation at Paris' Tuileries Garden

AFP (July 29, 2014) An infestation of rats is causing concern among tourists at Paris' most famous park -- the Tuileries garden next to the Louvre Museum. Duration: 00:54 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins