The majority of breast tumours start in epithelial tissue where densely packed cells line the milk ducts. Cancer can spread more easily when this smooth lining becomes ragged or ruptured. To help understand this process scientists are analysing the surface of healthy breast epithelial cells, which are six times narrower than a human hair. On the right a cell is viewed by optical microscopy, detecting the coarsest surface features. But Scanning Electrochemical Microscopy uses a platinum needle tip 1000 times smaller than the cell to rove around the cell’s surface. The left-hand image shows how it reveals even the smallest folds and creases. The tip scans the horizontal plane of the cell without touching it, recording tiny changes in electric charge as the surface rises (red) and falls (blue) an image of the cell’s topography emerges.
Written by Tristan Farrow
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