Engineers have built a device that measures disease progression levels in tissue samples by passing sound waves through them, an advance that may lead to new methods of diagnosing cancer.
The device, described in the journal Lab on a Chip, listens to the stiffening of a structure surrounding cells in the human body, and can indicate if cancer is invading the tissues.
According to the researchers, including those from Purdue University in the US, monitoring changes to this tissue structure, called the extracellular matrix, can give scientists and clinicians another way to study the progression of disease.
They said until now detecting changes to the extracellular matrix has been hard to do without damaging it.
"It's the same concept as checking for damage in an airplane wing. There's a sound wave propagating through the material and a receiver on the other side. The way that the wave propagates can indicate if there's any damage or defect without affecting the material itself," said Rahim Rahimi, a co-author of the study from Purdue University.
The study noted that each tissue and organ has its own unique extracellular matrix, similar to how buildings on a street vary in structure depending on their purpose.
It said the extracellular matrix also comes with "landlines," or structural and chemical cues, that support communication between individual cells housed in the matrix.
In earlier studies, researchers tried stretching, compressing or applying chemicals to samples of the extracellular matrix to measure this environment, the scientists behind the current research said.
However, these methods are prone to damaging the extracellular matrix.
In the current study, Rahimi's team developed a nondestructive way to study how the extracellular matrix responds to disease, toxic substances, or therapeutic drugs.
After the extracellular matrix and cells are poured into a platform in the device, a transmitter generates an ultrasonic wave that propagates through the material and then triggers the receiver, the study said.
From this, an output in the form of an electrical signal is generated, indicating the stiffness of the extracellular matrix.
In a proof-of-concept, the researchers demonstrated the device's functioning with cancer cells contained in hydrogel -- a material with a consistency similar to an extracellular matrix.
"Ultrasonic stiffness sensing is also demonstrated to successfully monitor dynamic changes in a simulated in vitro tissue by gradually changing the polymerisation density of an agarose gel, as a proof-of-concept towards future use for 3D cell culture and drug screening," the scientists wrote in the study.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)