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Highlights in Chemical Biology

Chemical biology news from across RSC Publishing.

Cell research goes acoustic

02 January 2008

Canadian scientists are creating waves to study cell behaviour on surfaces.

It is well-known that sound waves are affected by the medium through which they travel. Michael Thompson, from the University of Toronto, and his colleagues have used this principle in a technique to analyse the behaviour of live cells on various surfaces.

"Characteristics of the sound waves were altered by the presence of the cells"
The researchers introduced muscle cells into a device that produces acoustic waves. The characteristics of the sound waves were altered by the presence of the cells, and any changes to the cell morphology in turn affected the waves. Using this technique, the scientists were able to determine how well cells attached to different surfaces, and study changes in cell behaviour following introduction of metal ions or hydrogen peroxide.

Being able to study cell behaviour on surfaces is very desirable, said Thompson. 'It allows the rather exciting study of the importance of cell-cell communication and interaction in a rational way,' he said, adding that this type of research is impossible to conduct on cells in clumps or in suspension.

A sound wave being altered by cells adsorbed on a surface

Sound waves are altered when they pass through cells

Thompson said that an advantage of the acoustic technique over many existing methods is that it can be conducted in real time, so that cell responses are monitored as they happen. Also, it is non-destructive, meaning that cell behaviour is not compromised and can be studied by other methods following acoustic wave detection. He also added that the technique is very sensitive.

Thompson said he expects that the technology will be of use in medical research, for example in studying how cells respond to new drugs. However, he cautioned that the system is not yet user-friendly enough for this purpose. 'The instruments need to be design engineered, an exercise we are undertaking in collaboration with Maple Biosciences of Toronto,' he said.

Daničle Gibney

Link to journal article

Surface immobilisation and properties of smooth muscle cells monitored by on-line acoustic wave detector
Xiaomeng Wang, Jonathan S. Ellis, Chung-Dann Kan, Ren-Ke Li and Michael Thompson, Analyst, 2008, 133, 85
DOI: 10.1039/b714210b

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Label-free detection of neuron–drug interactions using acoustic and Kelvin vibrational fields
Larisa-Emilia Cheran, Shilin Cheung, Arij Al Chawaf, Jonathan S. Ellis, Denise D. Belsham, William A. MacKay, David Lovejoy and Michael Thompson, Analyst, 2007, 132, 242
DOI: 10.1039/b615476j

DNA-duplexes containing abasic sites: correlation between thermostability and acoustic wave properties
T. Hianik, X. Wang, S. Andreev, N. Dolinnaya, T. Oretskaya and M. Thompson, Analyst, 2006, 131, 1161
DOI: 10.1039/b605648m

Conformational chemistry of surface-attached calmodulin detected by acoustic shear wave propagation
Xiaomeng Wang, Jonathan S. Ellis, Emma-Louise Lyle, Priyanka Sundaram and Michael Thompson, Mol. BioSyst., 2006, 2, 184
DOI: 10.1039/b600186f