Cellular guillotine could advance science of self-healing materials

A microfluidic device able to efficiently and rapidly slice cells in half could help advance the study of self-healing materials researchers have claimed.

Artist’s rendering of Stentor being cut by the microfluidic guillotine

Developed by engineers at Stanford University in the US the device is being used to study an unusual single-celled organism known as Stentor coeruleus, which is able to cut itself in half and heal itself into two healthy cells.

By studying this organism the team hopes to gain fresh understanding around self-healing materials. “It is one of the Holy Grails of engineering to make self-healing materials and machines,” said research leader and assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, Sindy Tang.

The existing method for slicing cells, has changed very little in over 100 years and involves slicing cells by hand using a microscope and a glass needle. Using this approach it takes around 3 minutes per cell. However, the device developed by Tang’s group – which is detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is able to cut Stentor cells as much as 200 times faster than these methods.

The tool – which is essentially an assembly line guillotine for cells – pushes a row of cells down a tight channel onto a pointed knife blade, which cuts the cells evenly in half.

As well as spurring the development of self-healing materials, the group hopes that the ability to efficiently study cell healing could advance understanding of diseases related to cell regeneration such as cancer.