Chemicals, delivered in the form of drugs, are the most common way of influencing the activities of cells in our bodies. While great in many ways, there are a myriad of limitations and side effects for clinicians and patients to grapple with. UCLA bioengineers are investigating whether targeted physical manipulation could serve as an additional method of delivering clinically useful therapies.
The UCLA team developed a gel-like material seeded with tiny magnetic particles that can be applied to living cells. A changing magnetic field is then made to tug on the material, which in turn transfers the physical forces to the nearby cells.
When the researchers tried this with dorsal root ganglion neurons, which are a kind of primary neural cells, the investigators showed that there was a rise in calcium ions, an indicator of activity in these neurons. Cranking up the stimulation further, the researchers were able to reduce the pain signals generated by the cells since the cells adapted to the overstimulation.
The researchers believe that with more engineering, a variety of therapies can be developed to address pain and other
“Much of mainstream modern medicine centers on using pharmaceuticals to make chemical or molecular changes inside the body to treat disease,” said Dino Di Carlo, a UCLA professor involved in the research. “However, recent breakthroughs in the control of forces at small scales have opened up a new treatment idea — using physical force to kick-start helpful changes inside cells. There’s a long way to go, but this early work shows this path toward so-called ‘mechanoceuticals’ is a promising one.”