Cells are the basic entities of biological systems. They have particular physical properties, which enable them to navigate their 3D physical environment and fulfill their biological functions. We investigate these physical – mechanical and optical – properties of living cells and tissues using novel photonics and biophysical tools to test their biological importance. Our ultimate goal is the transfer of our findings to medical application in the fields of improved diagnosis of diseases and novel approaches in regenerative medicine.
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Cells actively sense and respond to a variety of mechanical signals — a process known as mechanosensing. Mechanical cues provided by the extracellular environment can modulate a wide spectrum of cellular events, including cell proliferation, differentiation and protein production. Read More...
Cells define and largely form their surrounding tissues and, in return, receive biochemical and physical cues from them. We are working on resolving this interdependence by quantifying these tissue mechanical properties, correlating them with biological function, investigating their origin and ultimately controlling them. Read More...
Viscoelastic properties of suspended cells measured with shear flow deformation cytometry
Richard Gerum, Elham Mirzahossein, Mar Eroles, Jennifer Elsterer, Astrid Mainka, Andreas Bauer, Selina Sonntag, Alexander Winterl, Johannes Bartl, et al.
Numerous cell functions are accompanied by phenotypic changes in viscoelastic properties, and measuring them can help elucidate higher level cellular functions in health and disease. We present a high-throughput, simple and low-cost microfluidic method for quantitatively measuring the elastic (storage) and viscous (loss) modulus of individual cells. Cells are suspended in a high-viscosity fluid and are pumped with high pressure through a 5.8 cm long and 200 µm wide microfluidic channel. The fluid shear stress induces large, ear ellipsoidal cell deformations. In addition, the flow profile in the channel causes the cells to rotate in a tank-treading manner. From the cell deformation and tank treading frequency, we extract the frequency-dependent viscoelastic cell properties based on a theoretical framework developed by R. Roscoe  that describes the deformation of a viscoelastic sphere in a viscous fluid under steady laminar flow. We confirm the accuracy of the method using atomic force microscopy-calibrated polyacrylamide beads and cells. Our measurements demonstrate that suspended cells exhibit power-law, soft glassy rheological behavior that is cell-cycle-dependent and mediated by the physical interplay between the actin filament and intermediate filament networks.
Quantitative phase imaging through an ultra-thin lensless fiber endoscope
Jiawei Sun, Jiachen Wu, Ruchi Goswami, Salvatore Girardo, Liangcai Cao, Jochen Guck, Nektarios Koukourakis, Jürgen W. Czarske
Quantitative phase imaging (QPI) is a label-free technique providing both morphology and quantitative biophysical information in biomedicine. However, applying such a powerful technique to in vivo pathological diagnosis remains challenging. Multi-core fiber bundles (MCFs) enable ultra-thin probes for in vivo imaging, but current MCF imaging techniques are limited to amplitude imaging modalities. We demonstrate a computational lensless microendoscope that uses an ultra-thin bare MCF to perform quantitative phase imaging with microscale lateral resolution and nanoscale axial sensitivity of the optical path length. The incident complex light field at the measurement side is precisely reconstructed from the far-field speckle pattern at the detection side, enabling digital refocusing in a multi-layer sample without any mechanical movement. The accuracy of the quantitative phase reconstruction is validated by imaging the phase target and hydrogel beads through the MCF. With the proposed imaging modality, three-dimensional imaging of human cancer cells is achieved through the ultra-thin fiber endoscope, promising widespread clinical applications.
PNIPAAm microgels with defined network architecture as temperature sensors in optical stretchers
Nicolas Hauck, Timon Beck, Gheorghe Cojoc, Raimund Schlüßler, Saeed Ahmed, Ivan Raguzin, Martin Mayer, Jonas Schubert, Paul Müller, et al.
Stretching individual living cells with light is a standard method to assess their mechanical properties. Yet, heat introduced by the laser light of optical stretchers may unwittingly change the mechanical properties of cells therein. To estimate the temperature induced by an optical trap, we introduce cell-sized, elastic poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAAm) microgels that relate temperature changes to hydrogel swelling. For their usage as a standardized calibration tool, we analyze the effect of free-radical chain-growth gelation (FCG) and polymer-analogous photogelation (PAG) on hydrogel network heterogeneity, micromechanics, and temperature response by Brillouin microscopy and optical diffraction tomography. Using a combination of tailor-made PNIPAAm macromers, PAG, and microfluidic processing, we obtain microgels with homogeneous network architecture. With that, we expand the capability of standardized microgels in calibrating and validating cell mechanics analysis, not only considering cell and microgel elasticity but also providing stimuli-responsiveness to consider dynamic changes that cells may undergo during characterization.
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