The National Institutes of Health has given University of Texas researchers a $1.5 million grant to create technology to study how cells interact with each other to help create treatments for viruses.
Hongru Ding, a mechanical engineering graduate student and member of the research team, said the team is using laser beams to force two cells to touch each other and measure the strength of the force interaction between them.
“The ability of a cell to attack a virus is determined by the strength of the interaction,” said Yuebing Zheng, principal investigator of the study. “Being able to quantify these interactions will allow us to understand how viruses attack our body and develop better drugs to fight viruses.”
Zheng, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, said researchers typically use a method in which they combine two cells multiple times and analyze the frequency at which the cells attach to each other.
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However, Zheng said the method is cumbersome and inefficient because it can only measure one pair of cells at a time. Zheng said a clinical situation might require screening millions of cells, and his team is focused on making the system simpler and more user-friendly.
Ding said the current mechanical method could cause contamination.
To measure the strength of adhesion, scientists traditionally use micropipetting to force cells to touch and release, but this project uses laser beams for non-contact manipulation.
Dean said the team has a unique advantage with their technology because they have the ability to rotate the cell, allowing researchers to more accurately measure adhesion forces between cells.
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Zheng said he hopes to develop a device that is as easy as using an iPad and able to measure as many cells as possible in a limited amount of time. Current research could be used to better understand vaccines, or for clinical applications such as drug screening, he said.
“One of the motives of our work is to transform engineering knowledge and scientific discoveries into tools that can help us solve the most difficult health problems,” Zheng said.
This story was originally published by The Daily Texan, an independent student-run newspaper at the University of Texas.