June 12 (UPI) — A new method for isolating cells promises to prolong the amount of time scientists can study individual cells in the lab.
Currently, only way to study individual cells is to cultivate and capture them in microgels, tiny hydrogel droplets. Unfortunately, most cells escape from the droplets within a few days.
In order to study the biochemical mechanics of disease — as well as the promise of new drug and stem cell therapies — researchers need to monitor individual cells for longer periods of time.
Researchers at the University of Twente in the Netherlands decided to take a closer look at escaping cells and found most were located near the edges of the hydrogel droplets. The scientists developed a chip capable of trapping individual cells in the exact center of the drops of hydrogel.
The new method allowed scientists to keep single cells alive and isolated for as many as 28 days.
Water-based polymers like hydrogels mimic natural tissue, making them an ideal medium in which to study cell cultures. Researchers can use the isolated cells to test new drug therapies or observe the biomechanics of disease.
In addition to improving cell-capturing techniques, researchers showed stem cells can encourage the transformation into different specialized cell types by altering the composition of the microgel.
As reported in the new study — published in the journal Small — the hydrogel droplets can be used as building blocks for the construction of more complex synthetic tissue — tissue that could be used to conduct different types of experiments or employed in implant devices.