Reed J, Chun J, Zangle TA, Kalim S, Hong JS, Pefley SE, Zheng X, Gimzewski JK, Teitell MA
A central question in cancer therapy is how individual cells within a population of tumor cells respond to drugs designed to arrest their growth. However, the absolute growth of cells, their change in physical mass, whether cancerous or physiologic, is difficult to measure directly with traditional techniques. Here, we develop live cell interferometry for rapid, real-time quantification of cell mass in cells exposed to a changing environment. We used tunicamycin induction of the unfolded protein stress response in multiple myeloma cells to generate a mass response that was temporally profiled for hundreds of cells simultaneously. Within 2 h, the treated cells were growth suppressed compared to controls, with a few cells in both populations showing a robust increase (+15%) or little change (<5%) in mass accumulation. Overall, live cell interferometry provides a conceptual advance for assessing cell populations to identify, monitor, and measure single cell responses, such as to therapeutic drugs.