Scientists from the University of Michigan, using novel nanoparticles, seem to have managed to measure intracellular electromagnetic fields within brain cancer cells, and found electric fields as high as 15 million volts per meter, a surprisingly high potential drop.
University of Michigan researchers led by chemistry professor Raoul Kopelman encapsulated voltage-sensitive dyes in polymer spheres just 30 nanometers in diameter. When illuminated with blue light, the voltage-sensitive dyes emit a mixture of red and green light; the exact frequency of light emitted is influenced by the strength of local electric fields, allowing the researchers to measure those fields. Testing these nanoparticles in the internal fluid of brain-cancer cells, Kopelman found electric fields as strong as 15 million volts per meter, perhaps five times stronger than the field found in a lightning bolt.
“They have developed a tool that allows you to look at cellular changes on a very local level,” says Piotr Grodzinski, director of the National Cancer Institute Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer. Traditional techniques for studying disease at the level of tissues average out differences between cells. Grodzinski says that many developments in cancer research over the past few years have been “more reactive,” working toward developing diagnostics for catching the disease in its earlier stages and for better predicting to which drugs patients will respond. Despite how far cancer treatments have come, the way that cancer progresses at the cellular level is still not very well understood. With a better understanding, researchers hope to further improve diagnostics and personalized care. “This development represents an attempt to start using nanoscale tools to understand how disease develops,” says Grodzinski.
More from MIT Technology Review…
More from the University of Michigan: Nano-sized voltmeter measures electric fields deep within cells