The microHammer team, from l to r: Graduate student researcher Luke Patterson and principal investigators Kimberly Turner, Megan Valentine and Adele Doyle Photo Credit: SPENCER BRUTTIG

World’s Tiniest MicroHammer Developed to Study Brain Cells During Accident

Researchers at University of California, Santa Barbara in the US have built what they called a MicroHammer, the world’s tiniest hammer to measure brain cells undergo change during traumatic injuries after accidents or due to diseases like Alzheimer’s.

When head injuries take place, crack, accompanied by shock and swelling or a minor bump or visible scrape on the outside of the skull but nobody knows what happens inside the skull, especially the brain cells that comprise the spongy, gelatinous matter of our brains.

UC Santa Barbara researchers Kimberly Turner, Megan Valentine and Adele Doyle investigated at the cellular level to know what changes take place when mechanical forces are applied to brain cells.

MicroHammer (UCSB)

“Mechanical forces have been shown to impact cells a lot,” said Turner, who specialized in studying the reactions of individual neural cells to forces. The researchers have built the microHammer, a cellular-scale machine to tap, strike, squeeze and poke individual neural progenitors, neurons and neural tissue to study responses of the brain.

The microHammer is the world’s smallest hammer, modeled after cell-sorting technology, built by their industrial partner Owl Biomedical for medical diagnostics and immunotherapies. It flows individual cells through and subjects each of them to physical forces.

“This project will enable precision measurements of the physical, chemical and biological changes that occur when cells are subjected to mechanical loading, ranging from small perturbations to high-force, high-speed impacts,” said Valentine, another researcher.

The new technology will provide significantly higher forces and faster impact cycles than have previously been possible. These microfluidic devices can leverage a host of other on-chip diagnostics and imaging tools, besides collecting the cells for tests later on to study the causes and progress of brain injuries due to trauma.

The MicroHammer is currently undergoing development for magnitude of forces it can apply. In addition to trauma, the impact of Alzheimer’s disease on brain cells can be explored with the biomedical device. The traumatic brain injury, which is not curable and often afflicts soldiers, athletes and those involved in accidents.

“Our studies could transform our understanding of how cells process and respond to force-based signals,” said Valentine. “These signals are essential in development and wound healing in healthy tissues, and are misregulated in diseases such as cancer,” she added.

The project is part of the federal Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

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