Published on June 14, 2010 at 9:00 AM
Reaction to sound
A team of researchers from the Universities of Glasgow and Oxford, and the UK's National Institute of Medical Research at Mill Hill, are developing a 'micro-ear' which may help develop medicines and screening for diseases such as malaria and sleeping sickness in Africa. The project is in two parts, explains Professor Jon Cooper, a bio-engineer at University of Glasgow. In one aspect of the work, 'we launch sound at the blood cells and we use the way that the blood cell behaves within that acoustic field to differentiate between those cells which are infected and those which are non-infected.'
The other part of the project involves making very sensitive transducers, or sensors, which enable them to listen to the noise that cells make. The sensors can track the general noise of the cell, and in the case of sleeping sickness, the noise of cells infected with the trypanosome parasite. What's called the 'flagellum' is a tail that moves the cell, like a motor. 'The trypanosome parasite has a tail towards the nose,' explains Professor Cooper, and helps motility, 'particularly when it's in the tsetse fly, moving from the fly's stomach to the salival glands of the tsetse fly.' The tail also helps avoid the immune response of the cell, by washing its surface, 'to wash away,' says Professor Cooper, 'antibodies that are perhaps becoming attached as part of the host's immune response. So obviously, if we can then listen to that flagella motor, just in the same way as a car mechanic might want to listen to the engine of a car, then you have a diagnostic tool. What we want to do is to use this as a way of looking for potential drugs which interfere with that motor.'