The new device 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 could also open new avenues for biological research into cell force. It is the first high-throughput tool that can measure the strength of thousands of individual cells at a time.
“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.”
The team’s work is described in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
Cells use physical force for essential biological functions — both as individual cells, for example in cell division or immune function, and as large groups of cells in tissue, for example, when muscles contract.
Disruptions in a cell’s ability to control the levels of force they exert can lead to diseases or loss of important bodily functions. For example, asthma is caused by the smooth muscle cells that line the airways squeezing more than normal. And abnormally weak cell forces are associated with heart failure, muscular dystrophy and migraine headaches.