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Stanford University School of Medicine

Glowing worms may allow researchers to examine forces inside the body

Sensing_UCNP_rainbowMiriam Goodman, PhD, professor of molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford, has teamed up with colleague Jennifer Dionne, PhD, associate professor of materials science and engineering, for an ambitious project involving a quirky process. The interdisciplinary work revolves around feeding nanoparticles to Caenorhabditis elegans worms and making them glow from the inside out. The goal is to develop a way of measuring cellular mechanical forces in real-time, in the body.

“Mechanical forces play a significant role in determining the fate and function of a cell or of an organ,” Dionne said in a Stanford News release. “For example, every time our heart beats, our ears hear or a wound heals, cellular forces are involved.”

When struck by external lasers, these nanoparticles, created in the Dionne lab, emit different colors depending on the mechanical forces being exerted on and by them. The lasers are able to excite the nanoparticles while they’re still inside the worm, so the light show they produce can basically livestream details about the forces involved in the worms’ digestion. So far, the worms have chowed down on the nanoparticles as part of their usual bacteria diet and the team has taken static images. Tracking the light emissions in action will be the next step.

The hope is that this work could eventually make it possible to obtain cellular force information from inside the human body, which could reveal the progress of wound healing or indicate potential cancer, the cells of which are known to exert more force on their environment than healthy cells.

Previously: Fighting cancer on a tiny stageWorkings of biological clocks illuminated with glowing, blinking bacteria and New medicine? A look at advances in wound healing
Photo by Alice Lay

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