Device that measures cell strength could identify drugs for asthma, hypertension and muscular dystrophy

The device’s key component is a flexible plate with more than 100,000 uniformly spaced X-shaped micropatterns of proteins that cells can adhere to. Credit: University of California, Los Angeles

Engineers, doctors and scientists at UCLA and Rutgers University have developed a tool that measures the physical strength of individual cells 100 times faster than current technologies.

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 . 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 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.  

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