IGM Colloquium: Soft-MEMS for mechanobiology

© 2018 EPFL / Dr. Cristina Martin-Olmos

© 2018 EPFL / Dr. Cristina Martin-Olmos

Our research focuses in developing soft-MEMS devices that enable fast and accurate mechanical measurements of single cells and/or cell monolayers. These devices are cost-effective, compact and cell culture compatible, allowing, therefore, continuous measurements for drug screening assessment.

For centuries, medical doctors have used palpation exploration as a part of their examination to detect lumps or masses. This is used to feel the texture of a patient’s tissue, gauge its stiffness or reaction to the applied pressure. When parts are detected with a distinct stiffness that is often flagged as an early warning sign for disease.

Thanks to the advances in technology, over the past 2-3 decades a new field of research has been developed called mechanobiology, which is the study of cellular and tissue mechanical properties and its relation with fundamental cellular processes. Many different methods have successfully been used to determine the mechanical properties of cells and even link them to many different diseases. However, a characterization tool that meets the requirements of the research field, i.e. high resolution, high-throughput, easy to operate, cost-effective, compatible with standard biological equipment, and able to characterize both cells and tissues; is still missing. One of the main reasons is the interdisciplinary nature of this field, where engineering meets bio-medicine; and reconciling these two radically different ways of doing research is a great obstacle to overcome.

Our research work aims to bridge this gap by developing a tool that meets all the above mentioned requirements. The chosen approach is based on the use of soft microelectromechanical system (MEMS). This will yield a very sensitive device that is able to detect forces and stiffness.


Dr. Cristina Martin-Olmos holds a PhD in polymer MEMs since 2008 (Barcelona). Subsequently she worked as a postdoc, first with Prof. Juergen Brugger at EPFL and then with Prof. James K. Gimzewski at UCLA, where she broadened her background in life science applications and mechanobiology. Since January 2015 she is an Ambizione fellow at CSEM SA.