A small structure that mimics the natural environment of cells

Researchers have created substrates with nano-sized pillars in various arrangements. Credit: Jakob Vinje

When biologists study cells under a microscope, they see them on a flat surface that is not like the environment inside the human body. Now, NTNU researchers have discovered ways to use small polymer columns to mimic some aspects of the cell’s natural environment.Their work, funded by the Research Council of Norway, is published in the journal. Nanoscale research letter..

“Cell human body It is embedded in a complex matrix of molecules, “says Pawel Sikorski, a professor of physics at NTNU. This environment, known as the extracellular matrix, is the dynamic support network of cells, not just the physical scaffolding of tissues and organs. Not only does it grow, it also signals to help cells communicate with each other. Extracellular matrix And wear them Flat surface Made of glass, researchers can study them in the laboratory. This means that you can miss the observations of many cellular processes.

“The glass is very hard and the cells sense that the board doesn’t deform when you try to pull it,” says Sikorski. “It induces certain types of behavior, and also induces certain types of processes within the cell. When they are placed on something that is elastic, soft, deformable and modifiable, they behave differently. To do.”

This means that if researchers want to understand how cells behave in their natural environment, they need a substrate that more closely replicates biology. Embedding cells within a hydrogel (for example, a 3D network of gelatin-like polymers) is an option. However, studying cells in hydrogels is not as easy as looking at them on a simple glass slide under a light microscope. “If you want to see what’s going on, it’s going to be very difficult,” says Sikorski.

Create a structure on a polymer thin film

Mimicking some of the mechanical aspects of softer substrates with nanostructures is one possible way to deal with this problem, which is exactly what Sikorski and Ph.D. student Jakob Vinje said in Oslo. In collaboration with university cell biologists Noemi Antonella Guadagno and Cinzia Progida. Vinje covered the glass slides with a small pillar made of a polymer known as SU-8. These nanopillars (each with a tip diameter of only 100 nanometers) Electron beam lithography In NTNU NanoLab, the focused electron beam creates a structure in a polymer thin film.

“There are already quite a few pillars on a 1mm square. If you want to study cells, you need to create a surface on the order of at least 10x10mm,” says Sikorski. “NTNU NanoLab’s tools are essential to make this possible.”

Researchers created substrates with various nanopillar sequences and tested them using cells that produce fluorescent proteins. By observing the cells under a microscope, researchers analyzed the shape, size, and distribution of the points on which the cells attach to various surfaces.

A small structure that mimics the natural environment of cells

Substrates with densely packed nanopillars best mimic softer surfaces. Credit: Jakob Vinje

Dense pillars

After observing cells on different surfaces hundreds of times, researchers found that a substrate densely packed with nanopillars best mimics a softer surface. “When you create a substrate with dense columns, the cells behave as if they were on a much softer substrate,” says Sikorski.

The beauty of a board covered with nanopillars is its simplicity. In theory, biologists only need to replace regular glass slides with new ones. “It has more features and adjustments than a glass substrate, but it’s still relatively simple,” says Sikorski.

He states that the ultimate goal is to allow researchers to “open the package, remove one of them, put the cells in, look under a microscope, and throw them away when done.” However, in order to achieve this, it is necessary to manufacture hundreds of boards at a relatively low cost.

So far, researchers have created only a few prototypes, but existing methods that can scale up substrate production, such as a low-cost, high-throughput method for creating nanoscale patterns called nanoimprint lithography. there is.

Not only can biologists study cells in new ways, but they can also use substrates to develop better ways to screen medicines.Find a medicine to stop cell Adhering to a specific surface, for example covered with nanopillars substrate Can imitate it Water surface Test potential drugs.

Unleash the most therapeutic potential from cells

For more information:
Jakob B. Vinje et al, Analysis of Actin and Desmosome Tissues in U2OS Cells on Polymer Nanostructures, Nanoscale research letter (2021). DOI: 10.1186 / s11671-021-03598-9

Quote: A small structure that mimics the natural environment of cells (February 9, 2022) is available from https: // February 2022. Obtained on the 9th.

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