Monday, November 26, 2012

Nano structures aid in studying individual cells

A cell is the most basic form of life there is. Some organisms consist of just a single cell, but us human beings have billions of them. Because we consist of so many individual components, cells need to work closely together. They do so by forming a cooperation of multiple cells that all do the same thing. That is what we call tissue. Communication is very important, and cells normally receive signals from all sides. In the lab, things are a bit different. We use special culture flasks in which the cells attach to the bottom. However, this does not accurately mimic the situation in the body. Scientists from the University of Twente have designed nano structures to grow cells individually, in the shape of a pyramid.

These pyramids, visualized below, were created by a novel technology called corner lithography. The nano structures are formed by a complex process involving two distinct materials that ends up in a pyramid-shaped thing that is capable of holding a cell. This is achieved by the 'large' openings on each side, which allows cells to slip in, after which they remain trapped inside the pyramid.
According to the Dutch scientists, one of the main advantages of keeping cells in the pyramid-shaped nano structure is that they are growing in a 3D environment. As said, normally cells are grown on the bottom of culture flasks, which is not really suited towards mimicking the natural environment. In the pyramid, the cells at least interact in three dimensions. In addition, they are also capable of interacting with neighbouring cells: the pyramids can be 'mass produced', and they are close enough to each other to form 'lines' of communication. This can be seen in the picture above.

Also clearly visible in the picture above is that this new pyramid technology will provide us with nice pictures that show what individual cells look like and how they behave. Scientifically speaking, such techniques will help us studying cellular behaviour in artificial conditions. By more closely mimicking the natural situation, experiments we do in the lab may translate more accurately to behaviour inside an organism.

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