Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New technology that sorts cells by stiffness may help spot disease

Date:
October 16, 2013
Source:
Georgia Institute of Technology
Summary:
Researchers have developed a new technology to sort human cells according to their stiffness, which might one day help doctors identify certain diseases in patients, according to a new study.

Researchers have developed a new technology to sort human cells according to their stiffness, which might one day help doctors identify certain diseases in patients, according to a new study. The research team, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, hopes that their technology might one day aid doctors in the field to rapidly and more accurately diagnose disease.
Credit: Maxwell Guberman

The mechanical properties of cells are often an indicator of disease. Cancer cells are typically soft and squishy. When the malaria parasite is inside a red blood cell, for example, the cell is stiffer than normal. Sickle cells also vary in stiffness.

Research into the stiffness of diseased cells is lacking, in part due to limits in technology. Researchers have developed a new technology to sort human cells according to their stiffness, which might one day help doctors identify certain diseases in patients, according to a new study.

The research team, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, hopes that their technology might one day aid doctors in the field to rapidly and more accurately diagnose disease.

The new technology is being tested in a small device, about 1 inch wide by 1.5 inches long. Cells are injected into a microfluidic channel on one side of the device. As the cells move through the channel, they are forced to squeeze over a series of ridges that are fabricated at an angle to the channel. If the cells are very flexible, they will easily squeeze over the ridges and follow the fluid stream. But if the cells are stiffer, when they hit a ridge, they will slide along the angled ridge before squeezing over, causing the cells to move to one side, separating them from the softer cells. These ridges eventually separate a single stream of cells into two streams depending on the cells' stiffness, which in some cases can be an indicator of a disease.

"If you imagine a microfluidic channel that is focusing a stream of cells, you'll push the cells in different directions based on their mechanical properties," said study co-author Todd Sulchek, an assistant professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech. Sulchek specializes in studying the mechanical properties of cells.

The new research was scheduled to be published Oct. 16 in the journal PLOS ONE. The research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The researchers also have a patent on this technology.

"There are no real techniques to sort cells by stiffness right now in large numbers," said Alexander Alexeev, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech's George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. Alexeev is an expert in fluid mechanics and a co-author on the study.

A few other research groups are working on microfluidic approaches to sorting cells by stiffness, but Sulchek and Alexeev believe their technology will be quite sensitive.

"There are several microfluidic approaches, but there's not a real device yet," Alexeev said. "The main problem is how to sort cells very rapidly because if we are looking at cancer cells, there are very, very few of them. So we need to look at thousands of millions of cells to capture maybe a hundred cancer cells."

Their technology can sort cells at speeds similar to other cell sorting devices, such as a fluorescently activated cell sorter machine, which is a commonly device used in research labs.

To show that their device can successfully sort cells based on stiffness, the researchers made some cells artificially soft, then labeled them with a different color so they could find them later. After running the cells through their device and analyzing the separated cells by color, they found that the artificially soft cells were separated from the other cells. Then the researchers used atomic force microscopy to probe the cells' mechanical properties to make sure they were actually different.

"We show that we separate by stiffness, not by other factors," Sulchek said.

The researchers tested four different commercially available cell lines. White blood cells sort by stiffness particularly well, the researchers reported.

The research team will now work on using their device to separate cancer cells, malaria-infected cells, and sickle cells, and to sort stem cells.

"We're assured the device is very sensitive to say that the soft cells are all soft, but what we don't know is whether all the disease cells are soft," Sulchek said.

Aside from testing for disease, the cell stiffness sorter could also be used in as a method for purifying and enriching an undifferentiated stem cell population from the differentiated cells, which would be useful for laboratory scientists.

"This is also a useful tool for just basic research and understanding what the effect of specific disease is on cell mechanics," Alexeev said.

Gonghao Wang, a PhD student in Sulchek's lab, is the first author of the study.

This research is supported by the National Science Foundation under award CBET-0932510. Any conclusions or opinions are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the sponsoring agencies.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Georgia Institute of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Gonghao Wang, Wenbin Mao, Rebecca Byler, Krishna Patel, Caitlin Henegar, Alexander Alexeev, Todd Sulchek. Stiffness Dependent Separation of Cells in a Microfluidic Device. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (10): e75901 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075901

Cite This Page:

Georgia Institute of Technology. "New technology that sorts cells by stiffness may help spot disease." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 October 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131016212441.htm>.
Georgia Institute of Technology. (2013, October 16). New technology that sorts cells by stiffness may help spot disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131016212441.htm
Georgia Institute of Technology. "New technology that sorts cells by stiffness may help spot disease." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131016212441.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Obama: 8 Million Healthcare Signups

Obama: 8 Million Healthcare Signups

AP (Apr. 17, 2014) President Barack Obama gave a briefing Thursday announcing 8 million people have signed up under the Affordable Care Act. He blasted continued Republican efforts to repeal the law. (April 17) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) A recent study links apathetic feelings to a smaller brain. Researchers say the results indicate a need for apathy screening for at-risk seniors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands Of Vials Of SARS Virus Go Missing

Thousands Of Vials Of SARS Virus Go Missing

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A research institute in Paris somehow misplaced more than 2,000 vials of the deadly SARS virus. 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