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DIDYMUS Report Summary

Project ID: 615170
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Netherlands

Mid-Term Report Summary - DIDYMUS (MICROMACHINED OPTOMECHANICAL DEVICES: looking at cells, tissues, and organs ... with a gentle touch.)

It is well known that the mechanical properties of biological tissues and cells play an important role in life sciences. The goal of the DIDYMUS program is to design new tools to investigate this topic and possibly provide new insight on the development of life threatening diseases.

In this first period, we have developed a new method to measure the elastic and viscous response of cells and tissues to a mechanical compression over timescales that vary from a few milliseconds to a few seconds. We have defined a protocol to use this approach to study the mechanical properties of brain tissue in different regions– an investigation that will lead us to better understand the role played by the different parts of the tissue in the mechanics of the brain, both in healthy and Alzheimer models (in collaboration with Prof. dr. Wadman (Universiteit van Amsterdam), Prof. dr. Hol (Utrecht University), and Prof. dr. van Dam (VU Medical Center)). In collaboration with the Italian Institute of Technology (group of dr. Berdondini), we have started to apply this approach in combination with CMOS-based electrode arrays, which will enable us to explore whether electrical signaling in the brain is affected by the presence of anomalous mechanical stimuli. Furthermore, we are testing an apparatus that, putting our mechanical testers together with optical coherence tomography (an imaging techniques that allows one to gather 3D microscope images inside biological tissues), will provide an unprecedented study on the development of the spine in chick embryos – a pioneering set of experiments that may pave the way for a new chapter in cell and tissue mechanobiology (in collaboration with the group of Prof. dr. Smit (Amsterdam Medical Center)).

Leveraging on the experience accumulated during these years, we have further developed an optomechanical probe for in-vitro measurements of the mechanical properties of isolated cardiomyocytes (in collaboration with IonOptix, Optics11, and the group of Prof. dr. van der Velden (VU Medical Center)), and another optomechanical probe for the evaluation of the mechanical properties of tissues at the end of a small medical needle. The first probe is now a commercial products that scientists are using to better assess the reason why certain heart diseases develop and whether certain pharmaceutical products may work or not. The second probe (which, on the long term, might eventually find applications in minimal invasive surgery) is now used to investigate, ex-vivo, the mechanics of intervertebral disks (in collaboration with the group of Prof. dr. Smit (Amsterdam Medical Center)).

Finally, using the same approach that our new probes rely on, we have developed an extremely sensitive photoacoustic detector that can reveal the presence of small traces of specific gases. This probe will soon be tested within the field of breath analysis for pre-clinical research.

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