It turns out, however, that Suresh's expertise in nanotechnology is quite applicable to biology and medicine. With colleagues in engineering, science and medicine at MIT, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the universities of Heidelberg and Ulm in Germany, he has adapted state-of-the-art tools for the study of the mechanical properties of materials to the study of living cells.
Now, in the January 2005 issue of Acta Biomaterialia, the researchers report the most complete and quantitative characterization yet of how a healthy human blood cell changes its shape, or deforms, upon being invaded by the malaria-inducing parasite Plasmodium falciparum. In the same article, the researchers show how the deformation of human pancreatic cancer cells in response to certain naturally occurring biomolecules may affect the metastasis of that disease. Ultimately, the work could lead to better treatments for these and other diseases.
Suresh's coauthors are graduate student John P. Mills and research scientist Ming Dao of MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Professor Joachim Spatz and Alexandre Micoulet of the University of Heidelberg, Professor C. T. Lim of NUS, and Professor Thomas Seufferlein and Mark Beil of the University of Ulm.
Malaria and the cell
Healthy red blood cells regularly contort from circular disks to slender "bullets" to move through the tiniest blood vessels. Parasite-infected cells can lose their ability to do so because of reduced deformability and because they tend to stick more easily to one another and to blood vessel walls.