Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New microscopy technique reveals mechanics of blood cell membranes

Date:
April 28, 2010
Source:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary:
Thanks to an interdisciplinary team of researchers, scientists now have a more complete understanding of one of the human body's most vital structures: the red blood cell. The team used diffraction phase microscopy to measure fluctuation in the cell membrane and developed a model that could lead to breakthroughs in screening and treatment of blood-cell-morphology diseases, such as malaria and sickle-cell disease.

A research team led by electrical and computer engineering professor Gabriel Popescu used a novel measurement technique called diffraction phase microscopy to reveal the mechanics of red blood cells.
Credit: Photo courtesy Gabriel Popescu

Thanks to an interdisciplinary team of researchers, scientists now have a more complete understanding of one of the human body's most vital structures: the red blood cell.

Led by University of Illinois electrical and computer engineering professor Gabriel Popescu, the team developed a model that could lead to breakthroughs in screening and treatment of blood-cell-morphology diseases, such as malaria and sickle-cell disease. The group published its findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Red blood cells (RBCs) are unique in structure -- a doughnut-shaped disc full of the oxygen-carrying molecule hemoglobin but none of the intracellular structures of other cells, not even DNA. In circulation, RBCs must contort to squeeze through capillaries half their diameter. Their flexibility and resilience come from their membrane structure, which couples a typical lipid bilayer with an underlying matrix of protein. However, knowledge of the membrane's mechanics is very limited.

"The deformability of red blood cells is their most important property," said Popescu, also affiliated with the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at U. of I. "What we wanted to find is, how does deformability relate to morphology?"

The research team used a novel measurement technique called diffraction phase microscopy, which uses two beams of light while other microscopes only use one.

"One beam goes through the specimen and one beam is used as a reference," Popescu said. "It is very, very sensitive to minute displacements in the membrane, down to the nanoscale."

RBC membrane movement can be observed through typical light microscopes, a phenomenon known as "flickering," but Popescu's team was able not only to see nanoscale membrane fluctuations in live cells, but also to measure them quantitatively -- a first.

In addition to normal cells, the team also measured two other morphologies: bumpy RBCs called echinocytes and round ones called spherocytes. They discovered that these deformed cells display less flexibility in their membranes, a finding that could provide insight into mechanics and treatment of diseases that affect RBC shape, such as malaria, sickle-cell disease and spherocytosis.

With collaborators from UCLA, the group used its data to construct a new model of the RBC membrane that accounts for fluctuations and curvature, a more complete and accurate rendering than previous models that treated the membrane as a flat sheet.

"Our measurements showed that a flat model could not explain the data. With this curvature model, we understand much better what is happening in the RBC," said Popescu, adding, "It's really a combination of a new optical method and new theoretical model, and that is what allowed us to find some new results where the shape and deformability are coupled."

The team's technique eventually could be used to screen for blood diseases such as malaria or to screen banked blood for membrane flexibility before transfusion, since stored blood often undergoes cellular shape changes.

In addition, this novel microscopy technique has important implications for researchers interested in membrane biology and dynamics, according to Catherine Best, co-author of the paper and instructor in the U. of I. College of Medicine. "An advantage to studying red blood cells in this way is that we can now look at the effects of chemical agents on membranes, specifically. It is very exciting. For instance, we can look at the membrane effects of alcohol, and we may learn something about tolerance to alcohol," Best said.

Because diffraction phase microscopy measures live cells without physically manipulating or damaging them, it also could be used to evaluate medications being developed to treat blood cell morphology diseases, according to Popescu. "We can study the mechanics of a single cell under different pharmacological conditions, and I think that would be ideal for testing drugs," he said.

The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation funded this research, which included collaborators from MIT, Harvard Medical School, the University of Colorado, Harvard University and UCLA.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Y. Park, C. A. Best, K. Badizadegan, R. R. Dasari, M. S. Feld, T. Kuriabova, M. L. Henle, A. J. Levine, G. Popescu. Measurement of red blood cell mechanics during morphological changes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010; 107 (15): 6731 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0909533107

Cite This Page:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "New microscopy technique reveals mechanics of blood cell membranes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 April 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100428121523.htm>.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2010, April 28). New microscopy technique reveals mechanics of blood cell membranes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100428121523.htm
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "New microscopy technique reveals mechanics of blood cell membranes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100428121523.htm (accessed July 25, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Friday, July 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Doctor At Forefront Of Fighting Ebola Outbreak Gets Ebola

Doctor At Forefront Of Fighting Ebola Outbreak Gets Ebola

Newsy (July 24, 2014) Sheik Umar Khan has treated many of the people infected in the Ebola outbreak, and now he's become one of them. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Condemned Man's US Execution Takes Nearly Two Hours

Condemned Man's US Execution Takes Nearly Two Hours

AFP (July 24, 2014) America's death penalty debate raged Thursday after it took nearly two hours for Arizona to execute a prisoner who lost a Supreme Court battle challenging the experimental lethal drug cocktail. Duration: 00:55 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Can Watching TV Make You Feel Like A Failure?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) A study by German researchers claims watching TV while you're stressed out can make you feel guilty and like a failure. Video provided by Newsy
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