Coordinated cell migration has a key role to play in physiological and also pathological processes. The most dangerous form of pathological migration is probably that of metastasizing tumor cells. As such, gaining a detailed understanding of the process is essential in order to be able to develop effective countermeasures to pathological cell migration in applied research.
Cell migration is mainly studied in a controlled laboratory environment (see picture) on cultivated cell models (in vitro) using so-called wound healing assays, with the migration of a cell population being observed along its growth substrate, normally microscopically. For this purpose it is necessary to experimentally introduce a defined wound into a continuous cell layer into which the cells from the periphery of the wound can migrate. The existing, established assays are functional but can only be automated to a very limited extent and do not provide satisfying reproducibility or throughput. The project OptoMigration now adopts a new approach to the study of cell migration: the focus is on a composite, polymer-based material that is used for the high-precision optical wounding of cells cultivated on it. The core of the composite material is a light-sensitive layer which, when exposed to visible light, generates a toxic chemical species that locally kills cells growing on the surface of the substrate. The cells then grow from the periphery of the wound into the cleared space, which is documented microscopically. The contactless introduction of a defined wound to a cell layer provides the basis for a wound healing migration assay with a high degree of automation and parallelization. In particular, the anticipated precision of the introduced wound and its independence from the influence of the experimenter will significantly improve the reproducibility of this assay and make automation possible in the first place.