Microscope probes living cells at the nanoscale to diagnose cancers

November 21, 2011 | Source: Physics World
Living cells at the nanoscale

The gray portions of these images were obtained using conventional tapping-mode AFM topography. The color portions were obtained using the zeroth harmonic of the tapping frequency. The large diagonal structure is a rat fibroblast, the oval at the top right is an E. coli bacterium, and a human red blood cell appears in the lower portion of the image. (credit: Arvind Raman)

Researchers in the U.S. and U.K. say they have invented a new microscopy technique for imaging live tissue with unprecedented speed and resolution.

The researchers say the technique could have widespread applications in medicine, including watching cancers spreading and finding out how new drugs work.

The technique involves vibrating the tiny tip of an atomic force microscope at 7 kHz on a living cell and analyzing the resulting harmonics (higher-frequency vibrations) to reveal the mechanical properties of cell tissue.

Atomic force microscopy (AFM) is a standard technique for obtaining images of a surface at resolutions of a few nanometers.

Ref.: A. Raman et al., Mapping nanomechanical properties of live cells using multi-harmonic atomic force microscopy, Nature Nanotechnology, 2011 [doi:10.1038/nnano.2011.186]