Life from a cell's perspective


Rebecca Pool

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 - 08:30
Image: Professor Amanda Wright, Nottingham University, will lead the development of a platform that combines optical trapping, multiplane imaging, light sheet microscopy and adaptive optics.
UK-based researchers have won close to £1 million to develop a new optical platform to study live cells in 4D and understand what triggers cell mutation and disease in the human body.
Researchers from the Universities of Nottingham, Heriot-Watt and Glasgow will combine optical trapping and multiplane imaging with light sheet microscopy and adaptive optics to investigate the 3D environment close to cells.
As part of this, the researcher will use optical trapping to hold nano- and micro-sized sensors within an extra-cellular matrix to measure its 3D micro-rheology.
Deep 4D imaging will then be achieved via light sheet microscopy and aberration-correcting adaptive optics.
As Professor Amanda Wright from Engineering at Nottingham points out, the new set-up will, for the first time, plot, track and analyse cells' positions, movement and function as they grow into and interact with the proteins and sugars that make up the surrounding, extracellular matrix.
This will enable scientists to understand how physical and biochemical cues from cells influence the matrix, and vice versa, and how these interactions affect the progression of disease.
"This instrument will revolutionise our understanding of how cells respond to the forces imposed on them by their matrix as they move through it; forces which directly control cell function and behaviour," says Wright.
"For the first time, we will be able to view the cellular microworld from a cell's own perspective," she adds. "It will help us to learn how migrating cancer cells, for example, exploit existing tracts and directional cues inside the matrix."
Professor Paul Dalgarno from Heriot-Watt University pioneered the multiplane imaging technique that underpins the new instrument.
As he explains: "While a conventional microscope produces a sharp image from just a single object-plane, multiplaning records sharp images from several object-planes simultaneously."
"We will combine our revolutionary multiplane system with optical trapping before integrating this into the full light sheet based trapping system of our co-collaborators," he says. "Together this will enable us to fully study how cells migrate, grow and interact in 3D and in real time."
A second research strand will examine how cells absorb particles and the impact that drug therapies have on the matrix, providing valuable information on drug design.
Funding is provided by EPSRC, MRC and BBSRC.
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