Ultrasonic nanotechnology to see inside cells

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Scientists at the University of Nottingham are developing a revolutionary ultrasonic nanotechnology that could make it possible to see inside individual cells of a patient in order to help diagnose serious diseases.

The new technique would use ultrasound technology - most commonly used to visualize whole bodies, as in fetal ultrasound - to see inside cells. The components of the new technology would be many thousands of times smaller than those of the current systems.

The technology would be small enough to allow scientists to see inside individual cells in the human body and capture images of them, expanding our understanding of the structure and function of cells and could help detect abnormalities to diagnose serious diseases. like some cancers.

The work of the Ultrasound Group in the Department of Optics and Electrical Systems has been considered so potentially innovative that the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) recently awarded it a five-year, £ 850,000 (about € 978,000) grant.

Ultrasound refers to sound waves at a frequency too high for the human ear to detect, usually 20 kHz and higher. Medical ultrasound uses an electrical transducer the size of a matchbox to produce sound waves at even higher frequencies, usually around 100-1000 times higher for scanning bodies.

The Nottingham researchers intend to create a miniature version of this technology, with transducers so tiny that they could fit 500 across the width of a human hair, which would produce sound waves at frequencies a thousand times higher than the previous ones, that is, in the GHz range.

Dr Matt Clark from the Ultrasound Group noted: “By examining the mechanical properties of the interior of a cell there is a tremendous amount of information we can learn about its structure and the way it works. But it is a leap into the unknown, as it has never been achieved before.

“One of the reasons for this is that it presents enormous mechanical difficulties. To produce nano-ultrasound, you have to create nano-transducers, which basically involves reducing a device that is currently the size of a matchbox to the nanoscale. How do we connect a cable to something so small? ”He added. "Our response to some of these challenges is to create a device that works by optics - using pulses of laser light, rather than an electrical current, to produce the ultrasound."

The new technology could allow scientists to see objects even smaller than with light microscopes, and become so sensitive that it could allow them to measure individual molecules.

Source: Science Daily

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