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Scientists Invent Acoustic Tweezers To Move Cells

A step forward in nano-technology – researchers have invented tweezers that can manipulate cells through sounds waves.

The acoustic tweezers were devised through a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Penn State University, and Carnegie Mellon University. They are able to manipulate cells in three dimensions using sound waves.

In addition, the tweezers could lead to three dimensional printing of cell structures, to be used for tissue engineering. This is a very precise activity, as the natural tissue structure is very precious and it is hard to keep the cells alive.

The tweezers work on a type of microfluidic device. This allows low volumes of fluids to be processed. The process works by using two acoustic standing waves that have a constant height. At the point where the two waves meet, a “pressure node” is created and cells are trapped within it. At this point, scientists can alter the wavelength and the phase which allows both the node and the cell trapped within it to be moved. By adding a third dimension – of control – the researchers can use an acoustic signal to life cells up from the node.

One important application of the tweezers is to separate healthy cells from cancerous ones.  Dr. Subra Suresh, who worked on the project, told Bioscience Technology more about the application:

“This approach could lead to new possibilities for research and applications in such areas as regenerative medicine, neuroscience, tissue engineering, biomanufacturing, and cancer metastasis.”

The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper is titled ‘Three-dimensional manipulation of single cells using surface acoustic waves.’

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.

  • Victor Grayson

    Great science!