Measuring, manipulating and modifying cells are the three pillars of the bio-physics activity at Institut Néel. By developing original tools and studying problems through the eyes and hands of chemists and physicists, the aim of this transverse axis is to tackle fundamental issues in biology and biophysics

The multi-disciplinary research carried at Institut Néel may be divided into three main areas of interest :

1 - Interaction of nano-particles with living matter

One aspect of this activity is dedicated to the development of new imaging agents for deep angiography. Organic fluorescent nanocrystals are being prepared by the sol-gel method and functionalized to achieve maximum furtiveness in a living organism (coll. GIN1, Institut Charles Gerhardt and ENS-Lyon). A second aspect concerns the development of micron-scaled magnetic field sources for the manipulation of diverse biological entities functionalised with superparamagnetic nanoparticles. These high magnetic field gradient sources have been used for the trapping and precise positioning of cells, bacteria and liposomes (Coll. Lab. Ampère and G2Elab), and to mechanically deform embryos to study the interplay between cell mechanics and gene expression (coll. Institut Curie). Such µ-sources have also been use for the diamagnetic levitation and nontoxic arraying of cells (collab. G2Elab-CEA-LMGP). The emergence of this domain of research was made possible by existing skills of our laboratory in material synthesis initially developed for purely condensed matter purposes, based on chemistry and material science.

2 - Micro and nanostructured surfaces for living matter

Cells are sensitive to the physical properties of their environment, such as rigidity or topography, and to geometrical constraints provided by shaping their surface of adhesion. On the basis of the long-standing microfabrication expertise of the Institut Néel, we tailor surfaces properties to influence the development and differentiation mechanisms in various cellular types, from fibroblasts to neurons (coll. GIN, IAB2, Institut Curie and CEA). Topics include : (i) the development of original micro-patterns for individual cell confinement or for building neuronal networks, (ii) the nano-engineering of silicon, diamond and nanotube surfaces for neuronal adhesion and growth.

3 - Instrumentation for living matter

This domain of research is anchored in the instrumental know-how of Institut Néel in optics, mechanics, and thermal or electronic characterisation. Examples of current achievements include : An original fiber-based interferometric scanning optical microscope that reveals the topography and surface roughness of living cells. Miniaturized calorimetric biosensors for the detection of small energy exchanges involved in biological and biochemical processes. Silicon nano tweezers for the study of the out of equilibrium response of living cells to mechanical stimuli at the sub-nanonewton scale (Coll. IIS-University of Tokyo, CEA) Diamond electrodes and silicon nanowires to both measure and stimulate neuronal networks using customised electronic set-ups (Coll. INAC and CEA-Leti).

All these developments strongly benefit from each other to build a multidisciplinary approach to study fundamental issues in biology such as cell thermodynamics, cell mechanics or neuronal communication.

Highlights in recent years

Selected research contributions of particular relevance in the field of Biophysics .

- Fluorescent organic nanocrystals embedded in silicate nanoparticles as tracers for in-vivo imaging

- Energy minimisation in biological cells

- In vitro neuron networks on a chip


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