Nanotechnology reveals communications among immune system cells

Nanotech contributions to the development of medical science now include devices that can decipher the chemical communications among individual cells. A new microfluidic device called a multi-trap nanophysiometer promises to be particularly useful in elucidating the communications among individual cells of the immune system, and perhaps eventually revealing what goes wrong during the immune system’s response to cancer or AIDS. From Vanderbilt University, via AAAS EurekAlert “New nano device detects immune system cell signaling“:

Scientists have detected previously unnoticed chemical signals that individual cells in the immune system use to communicate with each other over short distances.

The signals the researchers detected originated in dendritic cells — the sentinels of the immune system that do the initial detection of microscopic invaders — and were received by nearby T-cells, which play a number of crucial roles in the immune system, including coordination of attacks on agents that cause disease or infection.

The chemical signals cells exchange when they come into contact have been studied extensively. But it has not been possible to detect chemical messages that travel between cells that are nearby but not in contact — called paracrine signals — because they are highly localized and they are produced in concentrations that have been below detection levels. A new technology, called a multi-trap nanophysiometer, was required to demonstrate the existence of non-contact signaling. This is one of the first microfluidic devices that has been applied successfully to the study of cell-to-cell signaling in the immune system.

The multimedia version of this story contains informative illustrations and videos.

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