Measurement of cell traction force with a thin film PDMS cantilever

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Adherent cells produce cellular traction force (CTF) on a substrate to maintain their physical morphologies, sense external environment, and perform essential cellular functions. Precise characterization of the CTF can expand our knowledge of various cellular processes as well as lead to the development of novel mechanical biomarkers. However, current methods that measure CTF require special substrates and fluorescent microscopy, rendering them less suitable in a clinical setting. Here, we demonstrate a rapid and direct approach to measure the combined CTF of a large cell population using thin polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) cantilevers. Cells attached to the top surface of the PDMS cantilever produce CTF, which causes the cantilever to bend. The side view of the cantilever was imaged with a low-cost camera to extract the CTF. We characterized the CTF of fibroblasts and breast cancer cells. In addition, we were able to directly measure the contractile force of a suspended cell sheet, which is similar to the CTF of the confluent cell layer before detachment. The demonstrated technique can provide rapid and real-time measurement of the CTF of a large cell population and can directly characterize its temporal dynamics. The developed thin film PDMS cantilever can be fabricated affordably and the CTF extraction technique does not require expensive equipment. Thus, we believe that the developed method can provide an easy-to-use and affordable platform for CTF characterization in clinical settings and laboratories.

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Biomedical Microdevices

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