NIR quantitative phase imaging enables label-free cell imaging through silicon

A team of scientists from the University of Texas at Arlington and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; Cambridge, MA) has figured out how to quantitatively observe cellular processes taking place on lab-on-a-chip devices in a silicon environment. The new technology will be useful in drug development as well as in disease diagnosis, the researchers say.

In a paper published in Nature's online journal Scientific Reports, the team said it overcame past limitations on quantitative microscopy through an opaque media by working with a new combination of near-infrared (NIR) light and a technique called quantitative phase imaging. A decade-old technique, quantitative phase imaging uses shifts in phases of light, not staining techniques, to aid specimen imaging—hence the term "€œlabel-free."

Related: Shining near-infrared light on life

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of quantitative phase imaging of cellular structure and function in silicon environment,"€ says Assistant Professor of Physics Samarendra Mohanty, head of the Biophysics and Physiology Laboratory at UT Arlington and corresponding author on the paper.  

The research team was able to prove success in analyzing specimens through a silicon wafer in two instances. In one, they accomplished full-field imaging of the features of red blood cells to nanometer-thickness accuracy. In another, they observed dynamic variation of human embryonic kidney cells in response to change in salt concentration. Mohanty believes that his group'€™s current work on NIR quantitative phase imaging can lead to noninvasive, label-free monitoring of neuronal activities.

"€œSilicon-based micro devices known as labs-on-a-chip are revolutionizing high throughput analysis of cells and molecules for disease diagnosis and screening of drug effects. However, very little progress has been made in the optical characterization of samples in these systems,"€ says Bipin Joshi, a recent graduate and lead author on the paper. "The technology we'€™ve developed is well suited to meet this need."

Ishan Barman, now an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, said the new paper is a prime example of the type of research he hopes to do—€”projects pulled by needs of the biomedical community and continually pushing the edge of biophotonic solutions.

"€œWe envision that this significantly expands the visualization possible in silicon based microelectronic and micromechanical devices,"€ he says.

Full details of the work appear in Scientific Reports; for more information, please visit


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