… [Since] 2003, Suresh’s laboratory has spent more and more time applying nanomeasurement techniques to living cells. He’s now among a pioneering group of materials scientists who work closely with microbiologists and medical researchers to learn more about how our cells react to tiny forces and how their physical form is affected by disease. “We bring to the table expertise in measuring the strength of materials at the smallest of scales,” says Suresh.
One of Suresh’s recent studies measured mechanical differences between healthy red blood cells and cells infected with malaria parasites. Suresh and his collaborators knew that infected blood cells become more rigid, losing the ability to reduce their width from eight micrometers down to two or three micrometers, which they need to do to slip through capillaries. Rigid cells, on the other hand, can clog capillaries and cause cerebral hemorrhages. Though others had tried to determine exactly how rigid malarial cells become, Suresh’s instruments were able to bring greater accuracy to the measurements. Using optical tweezers, which employ intensely focused laser light to exert a tiny force on objects attached to cells, Suresh and his collaborators showed that red blood cells infected with malaria become 10 times stiffer than healthy cells — three to four times stiffer than was previously estimated.
Prof. Suresh’s publications are here.