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Sun Jul 26, 2020, 10:52 AM

Researchers use Electric Fields to Direct Cell Movement

This is the first I have heard of this. I was familiar with chemotaxis where cells engage in directed migration in response to chemical gradients. I have even heard of magnetotaxis where some bacteria align themselves in response to magnetic fields. But this I have not really come across before...


Excerpts below:

Princeton researchers created a device that uses electrical fields to herd cells like sheep. This time-lapse movie shows a 90-degree turn in a layer of cells viewed under a microscope for eight hours. Video courtesy of the researchers; GIF by Neil Adelantar

This time-lapse movie shows a programmed circle maneuver in a layer of cells over eight hours. At left, a microscope image of the cells; center, their trajectories; right, changes in the electrical field’s direction.
Video courtesy of the researchers; GIF by Neil Adelantar

Researchers use electric fields to herd cells like flocks of sheep
Molly Sharlach, Office of Engineering Communications

Scientists have long known that naturally occurring electrochemical signals within the body can influence the migration, growth and development of cells — a phenomenon known as electrotaxis. These behaviors are not nearly as well understood as chemotaxis, in which cells respond to chemical concentration differences. One barrier has been a lack of accessible tools to rigorously examine cells’ responses to electric fields.

The new system, assembled from inexpensive and readily available parts, enables researchers to manipulate and measure cultured cells’ movements in a reliable and repeatable way. In a paper published June 24 in Cell Systems, the Princeton team described the assembly and preliminary studies using the device, which they call SCHEEPDOG, for Spatiotemporal Cellular HErding with Electrochemical Potentials to Dynamically Orient Galvanotaxis.

The SCHEEPDOG device contains two pairs of electrodes that are used to generate electric fields along horizontal and vertical axes, as well as recording probes to measure voltage and integrated materials to separate the cells from chemical byproducts of the electrodes. The voltage level is similar to that of an AA battery concentrated over the centimeter-wide chamber containing the cells.

“What the cells perceive is sort of a virtual angle, and that allows us to program any complex maneuver, like a full circle,” said Cohen. “That’s really surprising — that’s an amazing level of control that we wouldn’t have expected to be possible, especially with thousands of neighboring cells executing these maneuvers on command.”

The study “adds to the growing appreciation of cells’ responses to bioelectric aspects of their environment,” said Michael Levin, who directs the Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at Tufts University and was not involved in the research.

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