A new technique invented at MIT can precisely measure the growth of many individual cells simultaneously. The advance holds promise for rapid drug tests, offers new insights into growth variation across single cells within larger populations, and helps track the dynamic growth of cells to changing environmental conditions. The technique, described in a paper published online on September 5, 2015 in Nature Biotechnology, uses an array of suspended microchannel resonators (SMR), a type of microfluidic device that measures the mass of individual cells as they flow through tiny channels. The article is titled “High-Throughput Measurement of Single-Cell Growth Rates Using Serial Microfluidic Mass Sensor Arrays.” A novel design has increased throughput of the device by nearly two orders of magnitude, while retaining precision. The paper's senior author, MIT professor Scott Manalis, and other researchers have been developing SMRs for nearly a decade. In the new study, the researchers used the device to observe the effects of antibiotics and antimicrobial peptides on bacteria, and to pinpoint growth variations of single cells among populations, which has important clinical applications. Slower-growing bacteria, for instance, can sometimes be more resistant to antibiotics and may lead to recurrent infections. "The device provides new insights into how cells grow and respond to drugs," says Dr. Manalis, the Andrew (1956) and Erna Viterbi Professor in the MIT Departments of Biological Engineering and Mechanical Engineering and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. The paper's lead authors are Nathan Cermak, a recent Ph.D. graduate from MIT's Computational and Systems Biology Program, and Selim Olcum, a research scientist at the Koch Institute.
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