Cells Dancing Harmonic Duets, a Leap in Precision Personalized Therapies against Cancer

Cancer is a leading cause of death and a significant roadblock to increasing life expectancy in every country of the world. Even more agonizing than the associated death toll is the emotional and physical suffering associated with the disease.

Cells Dancing

Cells Dancing. Credit: Tony Jun Huang Lab, Duke University

Cancer occurs as a result of a mutation in the genetic makeup of an individual which results in uncontrolled proliferation of the cells of that individual.

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Over the years, several treatment options have been developed against this disease. They include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone replacement therapy, etc.

However, because of the complex nature of cancers, a challenge doctors have always faced in the treatment of the disease is the development of treatments that would be precise and effective for the individual based on his genetic makeup, lifestyle, and environmental factors, a field known as precision medicine.

A solution

Mechanical engineers at Duke University are using two electronic “voices” singing a harmonic duet to control suspended particles and cells in new and valuable ways. Their prototype device can form and rotate a single-layer crystal from a group of particles, create shapes with a given number of particles, and move pairs of biological cells together and apart again hundreds of times.

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Based on this development, researchers discovered that by measuring the adhesive forces between cells, the interaction between cells can be understood and a treatment plan against tumor cells can be developed and applied to cure cancer.

To measure this adhesive force, the device known as the HANDS platform (Harmonic Acoustics for Non-contact, Dynamic, Selective particle manipulation), named for its dexterity and precision, was developed.

Like every acoustic tweezer, the HANDS platform is capable of gently manipulating particles or cells suspended in liquids without touching them. However, now, researchers have added a new layer of complexity to these devices by introducing piezoelectric melodies and harmonies into the setup. This implies that instead of the usual static generated, the HANDS platform generates complex waves that can change rapidly. This can be likened to a machine that is capable of not just singing single notes but is capable of hitting high and low notes of a complicated opera with two singers.

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This device is capable of selectively pairing cells, bringing them together, and pulling them apart. The movement of the cells toward and away from each other is then used to study the adhesive forces that keep the cells together.

Clinical significance

“I am thrilled about the capabilities of this platform, which is as gentle as a mother’s hands,” said Luke Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, who is a co-leader of the research. “Gentle and sensitive mother’s hands allow us to establish the foundation of quantitative cell biology and translational precision medicine.”

“For example, we can systematically study T-cell interactions with cancer cells in a high-throughput manner and obtain precision cell-cell interaction forces,” Lee said. “This could help doctors find the most effective and specific cell therapy for patients as personalized precision medicine.”


The HANDS platform is a great achievement in the understanding and treatment of cancer and when applied, will indeed yield great results.

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Harmonic acoustics for dynamic and selective particle manipulation



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