Novel chipscope enables label-free monitoring of live cell activities

16 June 2022

An interdisciplinary research team led by Dr Chu Zhiqin and Dr Yuan Lin of the University of Hong Kong in collaboration with Dr Li Kwan Hei of Southern University of Science and Technology, has developed a low-cost, miniaturised and incubator-compatible chipscope that allows real-time monitoring of cells inside incubators.

Label-free analysis enables biosignal changes to be monitored in real-time without artificial manipulation of individual samples. Existing label-free sensing technologies generate an electric field, which could potentially interfere with samples sensitive to electrical signals, such as nerves, and myocardium. Alternatives such as optical evanescence field based sensing approaches have attracted interest in recent years due to their non-invasive and label-free nature. However, these technologies have strict rules for the testing condition and overall set-up.

The research team combined the technologies of chip sensors and optical imaging and created a new chipscope that can capture cell morphology changes in real-time without using labels. Using a customised mini differential interference contrast microscope, the new technology transcends the boundaries of the conventional photonic chip and microscopy monitoring processes.

By coupling the imaging unit and refractive index sensing unit, researchers can detect cell behaviours, including cell precipitation, initial attachment, spreading, and shrinkage. This technology has been applied in pharmaceutical activity screening, and immune cell phenotypes transform track.

The findings, published in Advanced Science, expand the applications of photonic chips in the biosensing area. The resulting chipscope represents a significant and exciting advancement in biosensors.