Researchers believe newly developed optomechanical technology might eventually be used by medical laboratories

Pathologists and medical laboratory scientists have long been aware of the parallel between cancer and the mechanical properties located in cells. However, a diagnostic tool to assess these properties has until now been unavailable. This may soon change.

A team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) recently created a technique involving “OptoMechanoFluidics” that might increase understanding of how diseases reshape the mechanical attributes of cells in the human body. The researchers’ innovative opto-mechano-fluidic approach could provide a new way to study how human cells congregate in tissue and bones by examining high-speed photonic sensing of free-flowing particles in the body at rates potentially reaching 10,000 particles per second.

The researchers published their findings in Optica, the online journal of the Optical Society (OSA). Gaurav Bahl, PhD, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Science and Engineering at UIUC, was one of the authors of the study. (See Optica, “High-throughput sensing of freely flowing particles with optomechanofluidics,” Vol. 3, Issue 6, pp. 585-591, 2016.)

Optical Sensing Blended with Mechanical Sensing

In a Medtech Pulse article published on Qmed, Bahl said, “It is established that many diseases like various cancers and anemia do cause changes to the mechanical properties of cells. However, these properties cannot yet be used diagnostically due to the absence of tools with enough speed and sensitivity to perform the measurement in practical settings. Because of this, we have barely scratched the surface of understanding of how diseases modify the mechanical properties of cells in our body.”

The video above demonstrates “a new phonon-mediated optical technique for performing high-throughput photonic measurements of mechanical properties of free-flowing particles in fluid.” (Video copyright: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.)

The video above demonstrates “a new phonon-mediated optical technique for performing high-throughput photonic measurements of mechanical properties of free-flowing particles in fluid.” (Video copyright: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.)

“We aimed to blend the best features of optical sensing—like extremely high bandwidth and sensitivity—with mechanical sensing, which allows the ability to measure mechanical properties without binding,” Bahl continued. “To achieve this, we have developed a novel microfluidic opto-mechanical device that enables high speed measurements of single particles within the microchannel. Sensing is performed by coupling light to vibrations in the structure. The vibrations are perturbed by the particles as they flow past at high speed, while light captures this information with very high bandwidth.” (See Medtech Pulse, “Photon Sensor Could Allow for Super-Fast Biodetection,” June 20, 2016.)

Gaurav Bahl, PhD (above) is Assistant Professor, Mechanical Science and Engineering, at UIUC. In a Medtech Pulse article, he stated, “Developing knowledge around the mechanics of cells and bioparticles may advance our knowledge in understanding the mobility of these micro-objects throughout the human body, about how cells assemble mechanically to form tissues and bones, about how tumors form, and about how cells and bacteria can propagate through us.” (Photo copyright: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.)

Gaurav Bahl, PhD (above) is Assistant Professor, Mechanical Science and Engineering, at UIUC. In a Medtech Pulse article, he stated, “Developing knowledge around the mechanics of cells and bioparticles may advance our knowledge in understanding the mobility of these micro-objects throughout the human body, about how cells assemble mechanically to form tissues and bones, about how tumors form, and about how cells and bacteria can propagate through us.” (Photo copyright: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.)

The other authors of the paper were Kewen Han, PhD, Graduate Assistant, and JunHwan Kim, MS, PhD, Research Assistant. Both men also work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Emerging technologies like this blending of optomechanics and microfluidics could eventually allow researchers and clinicians to observe structures smaller than single cells at high speeds. This type of research could result in enhanced diagnostics that can be used by clinical laboratories to support more precise diagnoses as well as improvements in treatment for a variety of diseases.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Photon Sensor for Microfluidics Analyzes Cell Mechanics

High-Throughput Sensing of Freely Flowing Particles with Optomechanofluidics

New Photonic Sensor Opens the Door to High-Speed Biodetection

Whispering Light Hears Liquids Talk: Scientists Build First-Ever Bridge Between Optomechanics and Microfluidics

High-Speed Biosensor Opens New Diagnostic Prospects

New Photonic Sensor Opens the Door to High-Speed Biodetection

Photon Sensor Could Allow for Super-Fast Biodetection

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