Nobel prize winner explains biophysics research

As professors and students crowded into the physics lecture hall Friday to see Nobel Prize winner Ivar Giaever, each of them echoed the same words that Skrikanth Hariharan voiced.

“It’s not every day that you get to see a living legend come to talk at USF,” said Hariharan, an assistant professor in the physics department.

Giaever, a professor of physics at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY and the president of Applied Bio Physics Inc., came to USF to discuss his unique method for culturing live tissue on small gold-plated electrodes in order to measure cell attachment and spreading behaviors. The technique is called Electrical Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing, or ECIS.

“The basic idea is to look at cells using electrodes rather than using a microscope,” Giaever said.

Traditionally, cell attachment and spreading measurements are labor intensive, but with ECIS the same measurements can be made automatically.

ECIS technology is based on a technique of measuring the change in impedance of electrodes to an electric current, specifically an alternating current current flow, Giaever said. In ECIS, living cells are attached to these electrodes and an AC current is emitted from the electrodes.

At the lecture, Giaever showed that when cells are attached to these electrodes, electrical currents pass underneath the cells as well as between them.

The cells attached to the electrodes are also given proteins or different chemicals to see how they react, Giaever said.

For example, mammalian cells attached to proteins grow, divide and crawl about in a repeated process.

“Cells spread out if they like what they see,” Giaever said.

ECIS technology could be used to make a biosensor, which is a sensor used to detect changes in organisms, because one can use the equipment to challenge the cells and see how they respond to different stimuli, Giaever said. He also mentioned that his work on ECIS would help many researchers in the future.

“In Europe you can’t use rabbits for cosmetic testing, so they need to find a new way,” Giaever said.

One of Giaever’s graduate students from 1990 to 1994, Chun-Min Lo, currently works as an assistant professor in the USF physics department.

Lo said he was pleased that students and faculty were able to talk with Giaever and learn about his ECIS research.

Lo added that Giaever was distinctive in that, unlike most other physics researchers, he also dealt with biology.

“Dr. Giaever can be a role model for students,” Lo said.