Contributed by Jean Schwarzbauer (Princeton University, Princeton, NJ)
Microdevices, micropatterns, particle tracking, cantilevers, and spinning discs are just some of the technologies with potential to lead to novel diagnostic techniques through basic cell biological applications. This Special Interest Subgroup hosted by the National Cancer Institute brought together biologists, physicists, chemists, and engineers to showcase multidisciplinary approaches for studying and controlling complex cellular processes.
“Micro” technologies are providing cool new tools to examine cell activities such as cell adhesion and migration. In one approach, cell-adhesive proteins in linear patterns generated by laser ablation of non-adhesive materials were shown to guide cell migration in one-dimension. High-resolution microscopic analyses of cells migrating along these lines are now providing new information about cell shapes, membrane projections, and intracellular distributions of cellular organelles during cell movement. A second strategy, microetched migration channels with hooks, provides a unique substrate to separate motile cells by geometry. Cell types that extend long thin protrusions at the leading edge are able to grab onto hook tips bent in the direction of migration whereas cells with wide lamelli migrate toward hook tips allowing small numbers of cells to be sorted by their migratory behaviors.
How micro technologies can extend into the diagnostic realm was well illustrated with the integrated blood barcode chip. This unique protein detection system is built by decorating single-stranded DNA barcode arrays with DNA-tagged antibodies. This array is then assembled into a microfluidic device to generate an antibody barcode chip with the ability to capture target proteins from solutions flowing by. As proof of principle, small amounts of proteins in blood taken from a finger prick were identified and measured showing the chip’s capacity to analyze complex samples (Fan, R. et al., 2008).
These highlights cover only a smattering of the techniques and interdisciplinary tools discussed in this subgroup. However, they illustrate how innovative applications of emerging technologies are providing new insights into biological problems and new potential for translation to the clinic.