New Cell Manipulation Approach Allows Cell Deformations to be Carefully Controlled In Vitro

New Cell Manipulation Approach Allows Cell Deformations to be Carefully Controlled In Vitro

A new cell manipulation technique has been developed by team of U.S. researchers that allows cells to be deformed in vitro in a highly controllable fashion. In vivo, cells respond to mechanical stresses by adjusting growth, differentiation, and migration. However, replicating the same conditions in vitro has proved problematic for researchers.

Researchers have been able to deform individual cells, but removing those cells from their neighbors limits the usefulness of the technique. It is also possible to deform entire cell sheets, but until now, it has not been possible to exercise control over the deformation of individual cells within those sheets.

Thanks to a new hybrid material used by the researchers, it is possible to control the deformations of an entire sheet of cells or small sections of individual cells in that cell sheet.

The research team, which comprises individuals from the Harvard A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, claim the new technique can be used on single cells, networks of cells, or on microorganisms.

The new material consists of arrays of microplates housed in photo-responsive hydrogel. A laser can be shone on the hydrogel causing it to contract and pull the microplates apart; stretching cells grown on the surface of the hydrogel in a highly controllable fashion. The process is also reversible. Only the hybrid material is affected by the heat, not the cells themselves, so the laser light does not cause any cellular damage.

Tanya Shirman, Technology Development Fellow at the Wyss Institute and co- author of the research paper said “By varying the patterns and dimensions of the microstructure skeleton in the hydrogel, we are able to generate optimal substrates for different cell sources, and by varying the positioning and distribution of the laser light, we can manipulate either single cells and subcellular areas within a complex cell sheet, or larger segments of the sheet.” Shirman went on to explain that the response times closely mirror those in real tissues. The material can therefore be used to closely mimic the physiological conditions inside the body.

The technique could be used to study cell morphogenesis, cell movements and cell-to-cell interactions in a more realistic environment. The potential of the new material in regenerative medicine, drug testing and developmental biology is considerable. The new material also has considerable potential in non-cellular industrial applications.

The paper – Photothermally triggered actuation of hybrid materials as a new platform for in vitro cell manipulation – has recently been published in Nature Communications.

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