CHAMPAIGN, Ill. University of Illinois researchers are using a new kind of microsensor to answer one of the weightiest questions in biology the relationship between cell mass and growth rate.
The team, led by electrical and computer engineering and bioengineering professor Rashid Bashir, published its results in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"It's merging micro-scale engineering and cell biology," said Bashir, who also directs the Micro and Nanotechnology Engineering Laboratory at Illinois. "We can help advance biology by fabricating new tools that can be used to address important questions in cell biology, cancer research and tissue engineering."
The mechanics of cellular growth and division are important not only for basic biology, but also for diagnostics, drug development, tissue engineering and understanding cancer. For example, documenting these processes could help identify specific drug targets to slow or stop the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells.
Biologists have long questioned whether cells grow at a fixed rate or whether growth accelerates as mass increases. Previous studies have used aggregate populations of cells, making it impossible to determine patterns of individual cell growth.
With their small, sensitive microsensors, the Illinois researchers were able to track individual colon cancer cells' masses and divisions over time, a feat never before accomplished. They found that the cells they studied did grow faster as they grew heavier, rather than growing at the same rate throughout the cell cycle.
Each microsensor is a tiny, suspended platform made in silicon on a chip. The platform is a mere 50 microns wide half the width of a human hair. The suspended scale vibrates at a particular frequency, which changes when mass is added. As a cell's mass increases, the sensor's resonant frequency goes down.
"As you make the struct
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign