Quantitative phase imaging provides nanometer scale sensitivity and has been previously used to study spectral and temporal characteristics of individual cells in vitro, especially red blood cells. Here we extend this work to study the mechanical responses of individual cells due to the influence of external stimuli. Cell stiffness may be characterized by analyzing the inherent thermal fluctuations of cells but by applying external stimuli, additional information can be obtained. The time dependent response of cells due to external shear stress is examined with high speed quantitative phase imaging and found to exhibit characteristics that relate to their stiffness. However, analysis beyond the cellular scale also reveals internal organization of the cell and its modulation due to pathologic processes such as carcinogenesis. Further studies with microfluidic platforms point the way for using this approach in high throughput assays.
We present a dual-modality system for both structural and molecular cell imaging based on coregistered quantitative phase imaging (QPI) and photoacoustic microscopy (PAM). The QPI system was based on off-axis holography, whereas the PAM system comprised a sinusoidally modulated optical source for excitation and a narrow-band low profile and low-cost ring ultrasonic transducer for detection. This approach facilitated a simple confocal alignment of the excitation beams of both modalities and the ultrasonic detector. This system was demonstrated by imaging endogenous molecules in red blood cells (RBCs) as well as by imaging exogenous molecular labels on cancer cells using gold nanoparticles (GNPs) functionalized to target epidermal growth factor receptor. QPI provided high resolution imaging of the cellular structures while PAM provided molecular contrast. This dual-modality microscopy method can potentially be implemented as a compact and low cost cellular diagnostic assay.