Very similar to the way chemical compositions and mechanical characteristics are crucial in buildings, the cells constituting living organisms have various distinctive characteristics and shapes based on their state and function.
Unrestricted alterations in the elasticity of the cells, or in any biological tissues for that matter, are symptoms and impacts of pathologies— weakened bones causing orthopedic complications, hardened coronary arteries leading to heart problems, elastic changes in corneal tissue resulting to ocular pathologies, and so on. An experimental process with the ability to non-invasively probe the biochemical and elastic characteristics of tissues and cells in situ will be a crucial diagnostic tool.
In the recent past, the field of optics and photonics, specifically the microspectroscopic technologies, has been shown to be highly effective for materials analysis. The study “Non-contact mechanical and chemical analysis of single living cells by micro-spectroscopic techniques” conducted by S. Mattana, M. Mattarelli, L. Urbanelli, K. Sagini, C. Emiliani, M. Dalla Serra, D. Fioretto, and S. Caponi, to be published in the Nature-Light: Science & Applications (LSA) journal, puts forward the application of an innovative spectrometer with the ability to perform in situ analysis of living cells, in a non-invasive way and with sub-micrometric spatial resolution. As a matter of fact, the optical system simultaneously receives the Brillouin and Raman spectra and uses the interaction between matter and light to offer contactless chemical and mechanical maps of the system being analyzed. The partnership between biotechnologists and physicists expands this technology to the investigation of single living cells, specifically proving its potential to observe mechanical modulation caused by subcellular protein structures.
In addition, researchers have demonstrated that cells exhibit a notable softening upon oncogene expression. This characteristic can explain the invasive ability noticed in tumor cells—their greater deformability assists them in advancing through the narrow spaces of the extracellular matrix, thereby supporting the further advancement of metastasis.
This research highlights the way in which mechanical characteristics of cells can function as a new bio-marker for pathologies and the manner in which the proposed method can transform into a prospective diagnostic tool, even in tumors.