Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Team engineers cell-deforming technique to help understand malaria

15.12.2004


Subra Suresh has spent the last two decades studying the mechanical properties of engineered materials from the atomic to the structural scale. So, until recently, the head of MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering never thought he’d be a player in the hunt for cures to malaria and pancreatic cancer.



It turns out, however, that Suresh’s expertise in nanotechnology is quite applicable to biology and medicine. With colleagues in engineering, science and medicine at MIT, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the universities of Heidelberg and Ulm in Germany, he has adapted state-of-the-art tools for the study of the mechanical properties of materials to the study of living cells.

Now, in the January 2005 issue of Acta Biomaterialia, the researchers report the most complete and quantitative characterization yet of how a healthy human blood cell changes its shape, or deforms, upon being invaded by the malaria-inducing parasite Plasmodium falciparum. In the same article, the researchers show how the deformation of human pancreatic cancer cells in response to certain naturally occurring biomolecules may affect the metastasis of that disease. Ultimately, the work could lead to better treatments for these and other diseases.


Suresh’s coauthors are graduate student John P. Mills and research scientist Ming Dao of MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Professor Joachim Spatz and Alexandre Micoulet of the University of Heidelberg, Professor C. T. Lim of NUS, and Professor Thomas Seufferlein and Mark Beil of the University of Ulm.

Malaria and the cell

Healthy red blood cells regularly contort from circular disks to slender "bullets" to move through the tiniest blood vessels. Parasite-infected cells can lose their ability to do so because of reduced deformability and because they tend to stick more easily to one another and to blood vessel walls.

"It has been a great challenge to directly measure the cells’ changing mechanical properties continuously as the parasite matures inside the cell," said Suresh, the Ford Professor of Engineering, who also holds appointments in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Biological Engineering Division.

In the Acta Biomaterialia paper, the researchers report doing just that. "We provide the first quantitative force versus displacement results on how the deformability of the red blood cell changes progressively in response to the full development of the P. falciparum parasite inside the cell," Suresh said.

"Such information at the molecular level is vital to gain insights into the pathogenesis of malaria, and potentially offers the opportunity to develop better drugs," Suresh added. Precise measurements of infected cells’ response to mechanical forces could also help doctors understand how different strains of the parasite influence the functioning of organs such as the spleen.

Optical tweezers

Key to the work is a known tool: optical tweezers. With this tool, silica spheres or beads are attached to opposite sides of a red blood cell, and a laser beam is aimed at one bead. Under the right conditions, the laser "traps" the bead, so that the trapped bead can be pulled, stretching or deforming the cell.

While others have also used optical tweezers to study the deformation of cells, the forces they’ve been able to apply are far less than those needed to induce the deformation that cells would experience in the body. The forces obtained by the MIT-led researchers are several times larger, and their technique offers considerably greater flexibility to mechanically manipulate cells than other methods. "This really gives a level of strain for the red blood cell that is similar to what that cell experiences as it moves through tiny blood vessels," said Suresh.

"We then extract the properties of a healthy red blood cell and a parasite-invaded cell from a combination of experiments and 3D computer modeling at the full-cell and molecular levels," he continued. His team, along with NUS microbiologist Kevin Tan and NUS graduate student Qie Lan, is also collaborating with the Institut Pasteur in Paris to explore how specific proteins transported from the surface of parasite to the cell contribute to changes in cell mechanical properties and stickiness.

Malaria kills some two to three million people every year. "I’m hopeful that this work will provide a deeper scientific understanding of how malaria affects cells by bringing cutting-edge engineering methodology to study medical problems," Suresh said.

The work is supported by NUS, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany, the German Science Foundation, the Interdisciplinary Center for Clinical Research at the University of Ulm, and the Association for International Cancer Research.

Elizabeth Thomson, | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Cell Division at High Speed
19.06.2019 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

nachricht Monitoring biodiversity with sound: how machines can enrich our knowledge
18.06.2019 | Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Successfully Tested in Praxis: Bidirectional Sensor Technology Optimizes Laser Material Deposition

The quality of additively manufactured components depends not only on the manufacturing process, but also on the inline process control. The process control ensures a reliable coating process because it detects deviations from the target geometry immediately. At LASER World of PHOTONICS 2019, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be demonstrating how well bi-directional sensor technology can already be used for Laser Material Deposition (LMD) in combination with commercial optics at booth A2.431.

Fraunhofer ILT has been developing optical sensor technology specifically for production measurement technology for around 10 years. In particular, its »bd-1«...

Im Focus: The hidden structure of the periodic system

The well-known representation of chemical elements is just one example of how objects can be arranged and classified

The periodic table of elements that most chemistry books depict is only one special case. This tabular overview of the chemical elements, which goes back to...

Im Focus: MPSD team discovers light-induced ferroelectricity in strontium titanate

Light can be used not only to measure materials’ properties, but also to change them. Especially interesting are those cases in which the function of a material can be modified, such as its ability to conduct electricity or to store information in its magnetic state. A team led by Andrea Cavalleri from the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter in Hamburg used terahertz frequency light pulses to transform a non-ferroelectric material into a ferroelectric one.

Ferroelectricity is a state in which the constituent lattice “looks” in one specific direction, forming a macroscopic electrical polarisation. The ability to...

Im Focus: Determining the Earth’s gravity field more accurately than ever before

Researchers at TU Graz calculate the most accurate gravity field determination of the Earth using 1.16 billion satellite measurements. This yields valuable knowledge for climate research.

The Earth’s gravity fluctuates from place to place. Geodesists use this phenomenon to observe geodynamic and climatological processes. Using...

Im Focus: Tube anemone has the largest animal mitochondrial genome ever sequenced

Discovery by Brazilian and US researchers could change the classification of two species, which appear more akin to jellyfish than was thought.

The tube anemone Isarachnanthus nocturnus is only 15 cm long but has the largest mitochondrial genome of any animal sequenced to date, with 80,923 base pairs....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

SEMANTiCS 2019 brings together industry leaders and data scientists in Karlsruhe

29.04.2019 | Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Innovative powder revolutionises 3D metal printing

19.06.2019 | Materials Sciences

'Alexa, monitor my heart': Researchers develop first contactless cardiac arrest AI system for smart speakers

19.06.2019 | Information Technology

Clean lungs thanks to laser process exhaustion

19.06.2019 | Machine Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>