Of the dozen types of cells they have tested, all have responded to at least some of the patterns, though different types of cells respond in different ways. "Sometimes cells sit on top of the pillars, sometimes between them," de Boer said. "Sometimes they wrap themselves around them." These drastic changes in shape are thought to have a biological effect on the cells, for instance by changing behavior such as proliferation rates.
By analyzing the data, the team is now able to predict how that cell will change its shape in response to a particular type of geometric arrangement of the pillars.
Learning the Braille code of cells has potential applications in the world of artificial implants, which include heart valves, dental implants, and artificial joints. Our bodies respond to some of these implants in negative ways, for example forming scar tissue around the foreign object. By creating medical implant surfaces that speak the language of cells, researchers may be able to elicit more positive reactions.
"What is nice about this approach is we don't need coatings. We don't need to change chemistry or biology. All we change is surface topography," de Boer said. Eventually, he continues, it could be a very powerful approach to improving the performance of medical devices.
Next steps for his team include finding out how many unique patterns there are that can elicit a unique response. De Boer is also beginning to collaborate with genomics researchers to get more insight into what is happening inside the cell as it changes shape. And to facilitate making the TopoChip platform available to medical device manufacturers, de Boer and colleagues have established a spin-off company, Materiomics B.V., to perform individualized screens on request.
|Contact: Catherine Meyers|
American Institute of Physics