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Sensing drug responses of single cells using optical tweezers

Light can be used to apply forces on single cells. Focused lasers have been used by physicists to tweeze particles and to manipulate them. These so called “optical tweezers” can be used as mechanical phenotyping tools for characterising the mechanics of materials and living objects.

In a study published in Biomedical Optics Express last month, Vahid Sheikhhassani and Alireza Mashaghi et al. have demonstrated the use of optical tweezers in studying single-cell responses to a statin drug. The team used optical tweezers to measure the changes in the viscoelastic properties of human red blood cells (RBCs) upon administration of Atorvastatin. Comparison of the viscoelastic features of the healthy fresh and atorvastatin treated cells revealed that the drug dramatically softens the cells. Using a molecular modelling approach, Mashaghi et al. proposed a molecular model that explains the drug-induced softening of the RBC membrane. The suggested mechanism is based on direct interactions between the drug and cytoskeletal components. The team is currently expanding this research line to further investigate the molecular mechanisms behind the observed softening and to study the responses of various human cells to statins and other drugs.

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