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With optical 'tweezers,' researchers pinpoint the rhythmic rigidity of cell skeletons

Endothelial cells, which line the body's blood vessels and regulate the exchange of material between the blood stream and surrounding tissue, are one of the most closely studied types of cell in the body.

The cells play an important role in cardiovascular disease. And a greater knowledge of their interior functions may help scientists develop new cancer treatments that curb or suppress the growth of tumors by cutting off their blood supply.

Daniel Ou-Yang's research group at Lehigh University is the first to use a laser tool known as optical tweezers to study the interior of an endothelial cell in a non-invasive way without introducing foreign particles into the cell or around it.

Achieving a resolution of 0.5 microns, Ou-Yang and his group can pinpoint and "trap" an organelle - a specialized part of a cell that resembles and functions like an organ - without damaging it.

They have discovered that the rigidity of the cytoskeleton, or cell skeleton, in the vicinity of the cell's organelles, appears to change by a factor of four in a rhythmical pattern with a periodicity of 20 to 30 seconds.

"This rhythm tells us something is alive," says Ou-Yang, a professor of physics, co-director of Lehigh's bioengineering program and a member of Lehigh's Center for Optical Technologies. "But it raises other questions. What triggers this rhythm? And what is its significance?"

Ou-Yang is collaborating with Linda Lowe-Krentz, professor of biological sciences. He also works with Profs. Ivan Biaggio and Volkmar Dierolf of the physics department and the COT, who specialize in the advanced imaging techniques necessary to measure the intracellular molecular signals.

Dierolf incorporates Raman spectroscopy scattering to see molecules without labeling (dyeing) them. Biaggio measure the mechanical properties of cells using nonlinear optical effects, which generate ultrasound waves to measure mechanical properties.

The work of Ou
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Contact: Kurt Pfitzer
kap4@lehigh.edu
610-758-3017
Lehigh University
3-Dec-2003


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