Novel tool that measures cell strength could help identify drugs for asthma, hypertension

Source: Xinhua| 2018-02-11 12:43:55|Editor: Xiang Bo
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LOS ANGELES, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) -- Researchers have developed a new tool that can measure the physical strength of individual cells 100 times faster than current technologies.

It is the first high-throughput tool that can measure the strength of thousands of individual cells at a time, according to the new study, as described in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

"We took a fresh approach to identify molecules that could serve as drugs to meet an unmet need for new treatments to treat or cure chronic disease," Dr. Reynold A. Panettieri Jr., study co-author and professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, was quoted as saying in a news release.

The new device, called fluorescently labeled elastomeric contractible surfaces, or FLECS, could make it easier and faster to test and evaluate new drugs for diseases associated with abnormal levels of cell strength, including hypertension, asthma and muscular dystrophy. It may also open new avenues for biological research into cell-force.

Cells use physical force for essential biological functions. Disruptions in a cell's ability to control the levels of force they exert can lead to diseases or loss of important bodily functions.

"Apart from demonstrating the feasibility of screening compounds for drug discovery, we also discovered that the conventional notion that increases in calcium levels within a cell are essential to control cell shortening or migration that is important in asthma or cancer metastasis was incorrect," Panettieri said. "Our observations using this novel platform offer a new paradigm regarding cell activation and approaches to screen molecules to target such processes."

According to the study, the device's key component is a flexible rectangular plate with more than 100,000 uniformly spaced X-shaped micropatterns of proteins that are sticky, so that cells settle on and attach themselves to them.

The X's embedded in the plate are elastic, so they shrink whenever the cells contract. The X's are made fluorescent with a molecular marker to enable imaging and quantification of how much the shapes shrink.

To test the tool, the researchers analyzed drugs that make cells either contract or relax, using human smooth-muscle-cells which line the airways in the body. They also conducted additional testing to further demonstrate the device's versatility and effectiveness, according to a news release from UCLA.

"Our tool tracks how much force individual cells exert over time, and how they react when they are exposed to different compounds or drugs," said Dino Di Carlo, professor of bioengineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and the project's principal investigator. "It's like a microscopic fitness test for cells with thousands of parallel stations."