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UCLA Magazine Fall 2004
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Fall 2004
The Next Wave
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Handheld Bio-analyzer

Image by Core Micro Solutions, INC.

This handheld bio-analyzer being developed by Professor C.J. Kim uses miniature “lab-on-a-chip” technology to rapidly analyze fluids with the help of a computer chip that is inserted into the device. The technology is expected to find uses ranging from environmental monitoring to the analysis of DNA and toxic agents. 

Another way of studying cellular behavior is to listen to them sing — literally. Any mechanical vibration is accompanied by sound, but it was Gimzewski and graduate student Andrew Pelling who first discovered that healthy yeast cells naturally vibrate at a high frequency and emit high-pitched sounds, while dying cells are muffled. (Their discovery was reported in the prestigious journal Science in August.) Gimzewski has named the fledgling science “sonocytology,” cytology being the branch of biology that studies cells.

While UCLA isn’t the only institution engaged in this kind of work, the novelty of the effort here “is that we’re building a database of signatures of different types of cancer cells and then comparing different cancers to that database,” says Teitell, who looks forward to the day when his research will allow him to directly interrogate cells in patients. “It’s a futuristic aim that’s years away,” he says. But in the near future, adds Teitell, aided by advances in genetic analysis, it could be possible to tell patients not just what kind of cancer they have but “how it will respond to a certain battery of drugs and what course the disease will likely take.”

CELLS DANCE AND SING to communicate with one another, and understanding how they do this is the key to genetic engineering and the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease. But humans aren’t the classical model for research in cell-to-cell communication. That distinction goes to bacteria, which have been around for much longer than we have. Over the past five years, the genomes of hundreds of strains of bacterial cells have been sequenced. Using mathematical techniques, scientists have been able to interpret the complex, hidden signals that enable bacteria to express genes, making different genes distinct from each other.

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