Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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23 April 2014

Herding Cells

Migration of large groups of cells plays an important role in many biological processes, from embryonic development to tissue repair. It’s an ability that relies largely on between-cell signalling. Now, researchers are using electricity to hijack such signalling and control the movement of cell collectives. They are, in short, herding cells. By applying an electrical current, they orchestrated the flow of a single layer of epithelial cells – the type that make up the outer layer of skin and line most organs and bodily cavities such as the stomach or urinary tract. The video shows a cell sheet migrating normally until the electric field is switched on, persuading the cells to change direction. This is more than a cool trick: it could lead to better control of cell migration in tissue engineering, for example, or 'smart' bandages that use electrical stimulation to accelerate wound healing.

Written by Daniel Cossins

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