Imaging system measures physical properties of cells

Bioengineering researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA; Los Angeles, CA, USA) have created a new system that can measure the physical characteristics of cells by taking images of them as they hit a wall of fluid.

Imaging system measures physical properties of cells
Imaging system measures physical properties of cells

Bioengineering researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA; Los Angeles, CA, USA) have created a new system that can measure the physical characteristics of cells by taking images of them as they hit a wall of fluid.

The instrument, called a deformability cytometer, was developed by UCLA biomedical engineering doctoral students Daniel Gossett and Henry Tse and assistant professor of bioengineering Dino Di Carlo. It consists of a miniaturized microfluidic chip that sequentially aligns cells so that they hit a wall of fluid at rates of thousands of cells per second.

A specialized camera then captures microscopic images of these cells at a rate of 140,000 pictures per second, and the images are then automatically analyzed by custom software to extract information about the cells' physical properties.

Other researchers had previously discovered that the physical properties of cells could provide useful information about cell health, but previous techniques had been confined to academic research labs because measuring the cells of interest could take hours or even days. With the deformability cytometer, the group can prepare samples and conduct an analysis of tens of thousands of cells within 10 to 30 minutes.

In collaboration with cytopathologist Dr. Jian Yu Rao, a professor of pathlogy and laboratory medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the team accurately detected cancer cells from pleural fluids using the cytometer. Pleural fluid, which builds up around the lungs, is traditionally challenging to analyze because it contains a mixture of cell types, including immune cells, mesothelial cells from the chest wall lining and, potentially, low concentrations of cancer cells.

The results were reported online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA and will be published in a forthcoming print issue of the journal. More information can be found at Di Carlo's laboratory website here.

-- by Dave Wilson, Senior Editor, Vision Systems Design

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