Cells in an optical tweezers

“Cells-in-Motion” enables pilot project with novel optical tweezers to investigate blood flow

July 13, 2015

The Cluster of Excellence “Cells-in-Motion” (CiM) brings together scientists from different disciplines to perform novel multidisciplinary research. Through a so-called pilot project programme, physicist Robert Meißner and biologist Wade Sugden will work together to directly measure the forces in blood flow that affect blood cells and their viscoelasticity.

Immunefluorescence images of a zebrafish embryo. Zebrafish embryos are a good model for studying blood vessel growth, both in development and in disease.

Depicted in red and green are blood vessels from host and donor zebrafish embryos. The blue color labels other cell types (e.g. muscle cells, neurons).

Robert Meißner, PhD student in physics, and Wade Sugden, PhD student in biology, met at an event hosted by the Cells-in-Motion Cluster of Excellence at the University of Münster. Robert Meißner told Wade Sugden about the possibilities of optical tweezers, immediately sparking his interest. With optical tweezers, you can capture and steer tiny objects like red blood cells in living organisms just by using light, completely contact-free and without disrupting any surfaces. Wade Sugden, who is from Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine, was impressed. With that meeting both junior scientists started to work as a team.

Ever since, Robert Meißner and Wade Sugden have been in pursuit of one scientific question: what impact does the geometry of vessels have on cells? In zebrafish embryos, they study which forces work on veins and arteries. Because these forces also affect blood cells travelling within the vessels, they also investigate the elastic properties of the blood cells. To get quantitative results on that, the young scientists need to capture red blood cells in the blood flow with optical tweezers and measure exactly how strong the forces and elasticity are. The idea behind this research is that the viscoelasticity of cells has a direct impact on cellular processes, and vice versa. In addition, sick or damaged cells change their viscoelasticity. Thus, Robert Meißner and Wade Sugden want to clarify the precise intensity of the forces and the viscoelasticity.

The Cluster of Excellence supports these two scientists through the so-called pilot project programme, which supports small discrete research projects carried out by young scientists. These projects get financial support under one condition: the project partners must be from different disciplines and work together on one topic. Both junior scientists benefit from this support and are happy to work in an interdisciplinary way. “We discuss scientific questions together, talk about specific demands for the technology and search for solutions”, says Robert Meißner. With partnerships like that, both disciplines grow even closer together.

"We hope to gain a better understanding of the variability of blood flow in different vessels, because these vessels are genetically capable of responding to the type of flow they receive,“ says Wade Sugden. „One day, we might be able to apply this knowledge to vascular disorders to address the genetic and biophysical components of such diseases.“

SSch (CiM)/JMK

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