Similarly to how a picked lock gives away that someone has broken into a building, the stiffening of a structure surrounding cells in the human body can indicate that cancer is invading other tissue.

Monitoring changes to this structure, called the extracellular matrix, would give researchers another way to study the progression of disease. But detecting changes to the extracellular matrix is hard to do without damaging it. Purdue University engineers have built a device that would allow disease specialists to load an extracellular matrix sample onto a platform and detect its stiffness through sound waves.1

“It’s the same concept as checking for damage in an airplane wing,” says Rahim Rahimi, PhD, a Purdue assistant professor of materials engineering. “There’s a sound wave propagating through the material and a receiver on the other side. The way that the wave propagates can indicate if there’s any damage or defect without affecting the material itself.”

Read more from Purdue University.


1. Zareei A, Jiang H, Chittiboyina S, et al. A lab-on-chip ultrasonic platform for real-time and nondestructive assessment of extracellular matrix stiffness. Lab Chip. 2020;20(4):778–788; doi: 10.1039/c9lc00926d.

Featured image: A device uses sound waves to detect the stiffness of an extracellular matrix, a structural network that contains cells. Changes in the stiffness of this structure can indicate the spread of disease. Photo by Kayla Wiles courtesy Purdue University.