How “sticky” cells are, or their viscosity, holds a wealth of information about their health and functionality. Now, researchers have developed a laser-powered technology that can make precise measurements of this characteristic in living cells for diagnostic and pharmaceutical testing applications.
"The stickiness, or viscosity, of liquids, is incredibly important in biology," said Warwick Bowen from the Queensland Quantum Optics Lab, which developed this innovative new approach to viscosity measurements.
"In living cells, viscosity fluctuations control shape and structure, modulate chemical reactions, and signal whether a cell is healthy or cancerous.”
However, as Bowen explains, existing technologies to measure viscosity are too slow to monitor these fluctuations which are occurring at sub-millisecond timescales.
How viscous a cell influences the rate of diffusion and biomolecular reactions happening within the cell’s interior. Therefore, having the right viscosity is essential to the functioning of a healthy cell, and abnormal viscosities have been associated with diseases such as cancer.
This powerful new technology would enable researchers to “see” viscosity dynamics in living tissues in real-time, something that has never before been possible.
"It's thought that fast viscosity fluctuations may occur in our cells—linked to their turbulent or chaotic activity—though they've never been observed," said Bowen.
"Observing them would be re-calibrate our understanding of cells—it would force us to revise our basic models of cellular dynamics.
Ultimately, this system also serves as a building block to faster, more accurate diagnostics and advances in pharmaceutical testing methodologies.