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World Precision Instruments of Sarasota has announced the launch of their new Cell Tester, a novel ‘mechano transduction’ cell biology research tool which allows researchers to study the influence of mechanical force, stress or strain on cells and how these cells react to stimuli. The resulting data will help answer fundamental questions such as how do individual muscle cells sense stress and stretch? And how does this contribute to the heart’s ability to adjust pumping capacity as a function of the fluid filling state?

Many cells in the human body are constantly under the influence of mechanical stresses. These include skeletal muscle cells, heart cells, so called smooth muscle cells in the wall of blood vessels and hollow organs such as the bladder and gastrointestinal tract as well as sensory neurons. Mechanical stretching activates mechano transduction signalling pathways in cells that have broad implications for cell health and disease. For example, mechanical pressures in heart and smooth muscle cells are exacerbated in patients with diseases such as high blood pressure. Insights into how these cells respond to additional stresses could give researchers valuable insight into disease progression and potentially shed light on how intervention therapies impact on these responses. The ability to do this on single cells opens up the possibility to use live human cells as an alternative to animal models of a disease within the research arena.

Working at a rate of over 1000 measurements per second, the Cell Tester employs state-of-the-art optics, nano positioning and force sensor technology to deliver sensitive, robust and reproducible force measurements. This facilitates the quantification of the very small forces that individual cells can generate – in the order of tens to hundreds of nano grams. At the same time, the instrument uses miniature piezo crystal-based motors to push or pull cells and so changes their length or imposes stress. The Cell Tester is being showcased to this year’s American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2011 in Orlando, FL, USA.

“In combination with a laser-scanning confocal microscope, we have been able to follow the fate of calcium release inside heart cells,” remarked Professor W. J. Lederer, Center of Biomedical Engineering and Technology, University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Being able to gain insight into the relationship between mechanical stress and aberrant calcium release, thought to cause possible lethal arrhythmias, will help support the discovery of new targets for the treatment of heart disease.”

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