New sensor can monitor heart cells with minimal disruption

Tokyo: Engineers have demonstrated an electronic device to closely monitor beating heart cells, or cardiomyocytes, without affecting their behaviour.

Inside each of us beats a life-sustaining heart. Unfortunately, the organ is not always perfect and sometimes goes wrong.

One way or another research on the heart is fundamentally important to us all.

“When researchers study cardiomyocytes in action they culture them on hard petri dishes and attach rigid sensor probes. These impede the cells’ natural tendency to move as the sample beats, so observations do not reflect reality well,” said one of the researchers Sunghoon Lee from University of Tokyo in Japan.

“Our nanomesh sensor frees researchers to study cardiomyocytes and other cell cultures in a way more faithful to how they are in nature. The key is to use the sensor in conjunction with a flexible substrate, or base, for the cells to grow on,” Lee said.

For this study, the researchers used a healthy culture of cardiomyocytes derived from human stem cells.

The base for the culture was a very soft material called fibrin gel. Lee placed the nanomesh sensor on top of the cell culture in a complex process, which involved removing and adding liquid medium at the proper times. This was important to correctly orient the nanomesh sensor.

“The fine mesh sensor is difficult to place perfectly. This reflects the delicate touch necessary to fabricate it in the first place,” said Lee.

The researchers believe that the device could aid study of other cells, organs and medicines.