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Listening to cells: Scientists probe human cells with high-frequency sound
Date:2/1/2013

Philadelphia, Pa. Sound waves are widely used in medical imaging, such as when doctors take an ultrasound of a developing fetus. Now scientists have developed a way to use sound to probe tissue on a much tinier scale. Researchers from the University of Bordeaux in France deployed high-frequency sound waves to test the stiffness and viscosity of the nuclei of individual human cells. The scientists predict that the probe could eventually help answer questions such as how cells adhere to medical implants and why healthy cells turn cancerous.

"We have developed a new non-contact, non-invasive tool to measure the mechanical properties of cells at the sub-cell scale," says Bertrand Audoin, a professor in the mechanics laboratory at the University of Bordeaux. "This can be useful to follow cell activity or identify cell disease." The work will be presented at the 57th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society (BPS), held Feb. 2-6, 2013, in Philadelphia, Pa.

The technique that the research team used, called picosecond ultrasonics, was initially applied in the electronics industry in the mid-1980s as a way to measure the thickness of semiconductor chip layers. Audoin and his colleagues, in collaboration with a research group in biomaterials led by Marie-Christine Durrieu from the Institute of Chemistry & Biology of Membranes & Nano-objects at Bordeaux University, adapted picosecond ultrasonics to study living cells. They grew cells on a metal plate and then flashed the cell-metal interface with an ultra-short laser pulse to generate high-frequency sound waves. Another laser measured how the sound pulse propagated through the cells, giving the scientists clues about the mechanical properties of the individual cell components.

"The higher the frequency of sound you create, the smaller the wavelength, which means the smaller the objects you can probe" says Audoin. "We use gigahertz waves, so we can probe objects on the order of a hundred nan
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Contact: Ellen R. Weiss
eweiss@biophysics.org
240-290-5606
American Institute of Physics
Source:Eurekalert

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