New breakthrough: observing cell function using terahertz waves

19.10.2023|08:13 Uhr

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Cell viability plays a central role in biological research, providing valuable insights into cell health and functionality. Insights that play a major role in, for example, cancer research, drug development and the assessment of cellular toxicity.

Researchers often use imaging techniques to assess cell viability and, despite significant advances in imaging technology, there are still some challenges in this area. Researchers at the University of Wuppertal have now made a breakthrough in this area.
Scientists at the Institute for High Frequency and Communication Technology (IHCT), led by Prof. Dr. Ullrich Pfeiffer and his colleagues from the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, including Prof. Dr. Julia Bornhorst, have succeeded in improving the imaging of cell viability with the development of a revolutionary 2D near-field sensor.
"The main obstacle in imaging cell viability is the heterogeneity within cell populations. In each sample, cells can vary in size, shape and metabolic activity, making it a complex task to obtain an accurate representation of the entire cell population. Another major challenge is the dynamics of cellular parameters that change over time. This requires real-time imaging systems that can continuously monitor these changes and track cell dynamics over time," Prof Pfeiffer explains the challenges of the project.
In addition, certain imaging techniques, especially those that use dyes or fluorescent markers, can be invasive and interfere with cell behaviour. These interferences can introduce anomalies into the collected data and consequently affect the accuracy of viability assessment, especially in longer-term studies. "A further complication in cell viability imaging is that the imaging system must resolve the intricate microscopic structures of the cells, which are often on the micrometre scale. To meet this requirement, sophisticated imaging systems are needed that can provide such high-resolution detail," Pfeiffer adds.
The 2D near-field sensor that has now been developed addresses these challenges. The sensor consists of a silicon chip with a total of 1024 pixels covering a total area of 2.4 mm x 3.9 mm. This design makes it well suited for portable applications in the laboratory or in surgical procedures. The sensor offers exceptional resolution with a measurement accuracy of 13-15 microns, making it ideal for capturing the entire area of a cell and detecting variations in size and shape between different cells. Its real-time functionality is achieved by integrating sophisticated circuitry into the compact silicon structure, which allows continuous monitoring of the cell on the display and recording of any changes, especially when the cell reaches the end of its life, detaches from the sensor surface and threatens to die.

Prof. Dr. Ullrich Pfeiffer
Institute for High Frequency & Communication Technology
E-Mail ullrich.pfeiffer[at]

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