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Posted 10.04.05

MU Researchers Develop New Process for Sensing Cells

Breakthrough Will Lead to Faster, Quicker Results in the Scientific Community

COLUMBIA, MO -- The detection of single cells, rather than a population of cells, is critically important in medical, biological and pharmaceutical research. Major medical advances in such fields as gene therapy and cloning require the capability of isolating and analyzing an individual cell. However, manually identifying a single cell under a microscope is labor intensive, even for a well-trained researcher. A new process developed by a researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia will save scientists and technicians valuable time in analyzing these cells.

"This process will provide the automatic detection of single cells, which will greatly facilitate research involving single-cell analysis, processing and manipulation," said Hui Tang, professor of electrical engineering, who developed the process along with MU doctoral student Yuanfang Gao. "For example, resolving metabolic activities at the single cell level would provide more precise understanding of cell life cycles and basic cellular process, which cannot be achieved by observing a group of cells."

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Tang said the measurement of DNA contents inside individual cells may allow for early identification of abnormal cell growth before they develop into full-fledged tumors. The current tools needed for this work, though, are bulky, expensive and typically located in central laboratories. Tang said this new process can be used in current research being done to miniaturize these cell counters, which would create low-cost handheld instruments for on-site and point-of-care applications.

The process Tang's research team developed consists of a microsensor with pairs of electrodes lining the opening of the sensor where the cells enter. The electrical field between the two sensing electrodes is localized to the entrance of the sensing hole. When a cell passes, it interferes with the electrical current between the two electrodes and causes the current to vary, which signals to the researcher that a single cell is in the field and ready to be analyzed.

Tang's study recently was published in the IEEE Sensors Journal.



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