The micro-electromechanical device can function as a "canary on a chip" to signal cell death. (Photo courtesy of Yong Huang)
In experiments conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, researchers have found a way to tap into the telltale electrical signals that mark cell death, opening the door to the creation of a "canary on a chip" that can be used to sound the alarm of a biochemical attack or test drug toxicity on human tissue.
In a study appearing in the June 15 issue of Sensors and Actuators, researchers used a microchip to electrically determine cell viability by detecting changes in the electrical resistance of a cell membrane within milliseconds after it is exposed to a toxic agent. They found that after a cell is exposed to a toxin, its electrical resistance experiences a quick spike before dropping dramatically when it dies.
"The beauty of the device is that it detects the viability of a cell directly and instantaneously," said Boris Rubinsky, professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering at UC Berkeley and co-author of the study, which is now available online. "This MEMS (micro-electromechanical) device will be invaluable in the detection of a biochemical attack because there you don’t have the luxury of time and analysis. It’s a new technology that will act like a canary on a chip."
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