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This is a photonic Resonator Outcoupler Microscopy (PROM) image that highlights focal adhesions of live dental stem cells.  Yue Zhuo/Brian Cunningham

NEWS PROM microscopy analyses cellular focal adhesion dynamics

European Pharmaceutical Review
2018-06-04

Focal adhesions are large specialised proteins that are located in the area where a cell membrane meets the extracellular matrix (ECM), a collection of molecules surrounding the cells that provide support and regulate micromechanical signals to the cells. Examining focal adhesions is one of the key elements to understanding how a cell proliferates, differentiates, and migrates–which can help in the treatment of diseases like cancer.

Researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory at the University of Illinois have developed a new form of microscopy that allows them to observe the formation and evolution of cell membrane focal adhesions. 

“This is a new kind of biophysics method used to measure the peak intensity shift (PIS) of the spectra reflected from the biomaterials on a photonic crystal surface,” said Yue Zhuo, a Beckman Institute Postdoctoral Fellow and first author on the paper. “The PIS indicates the variation of cluster size in the focal adhesion area of the cell while it’s alive.”

Previous methods involve labelling the cells with fluorescent dyes or tags, which not only can change the physical and chemical makeup of the cell, but also can prove cumbersome for researchers. “Typically people look at focal adhesions with fluorescent tags or proteins,” Dr Zhuo said. “But fluorescent imaging is an invasive imaging method that may change the conformations or block the binding sites of the proteins in the focal adhesion area.”

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