A research team at KU Leuven (Belgium) has developed a new technique that allows researchers to easily quantify the concentration of calcium in living organisms over a long period of time. Up to now, this was only possible with more complex experimental setups. This simplified method can be adapted to other molecules and tissues, making it a useful instrument for translational research and the development of applications.
Understanding living cells is becoming more and more important for engineers, doctors, toxicologists, and researchers in general. In order to visualise a molecule of interest, you need both the right microscope and a suitable biomarker with a fluorescent label to mark your target. Up to now, researchers have had two main options to understand the inner workings of a cell. A first option is using fluorescent markers that provide absolute quantification of the target but come with technical difficulties and complex measurement setups. The second option involves small biosensors that allow for simplified experiments. However, these sensors cannot provide a quantitative readout, meaning that only relative concentrations can be measured.
This technique can help other researchers with their experiments, which can eventually lead to faster breakthroughs and applications. We are already in contact with several international labs to cooperate and help them implement our new technique in their research.
Best of both worlds
Researchers from KU Leuven have now managed to combine the best of both worlds: a biosensing method based on a small sensor delivering fast but fully quantitative measurements. The technique offers other advantages, such as measurements over long periods of time.
As a proof of concept, they developed a new method for measuring calcium levels in living cells. Calcium fluctuations are important in many cellular processes, such as neuronal signalling and muscle contraction. Thanks to the new technique from Professor Dedecker’s lab, researchers can measure absolute calcium flux in living cells in different conditions. "The advantage of our approach is that it is not only applicable for calcium-ions in neurons, but can easily be adapted to other molecules and even be used in more complex tissues", explains postdoctoral researcher Ana´s Bourges.
Small steps, big impact
Another advantage is that the technique can easily be reproduced in other labs, because the developed method is independent of the illumination intensity of the used instrument. Compared to other techniques, this new approach allows labs to share and compare their results easily.
"Although our work is fundamental research, we believe this new method can be important for everyone. Research is a process with consecutive steps, and our technique is one step forward towards new insights in life sciences", says doctoral researcher Franziska Bierbuesse.
Peter Dedecker adds: "This technique can help other researchers with their experiments, which can eventually lead to faster breakthroughs and applications. We are already in contact with several international labs to cooperate and help them implement our new technique in their research."