How alive are your cells? New cell scale measures how much “life” weighs; the BMI scale is really out of date now

The current medical standard that determines one’s ideal weight (the BMI scale) is outdated and dismisses more important indications of good health, such as the energy production of trillions of cells throughout the body. The narrow-minded body mass index scale dictates the appropriate weight for people in relation to their height, but this method of weight measurement does not consider the healthy “life mass” of the individual cells that makeup the blood, organs and tissues. Furthermore, the BMI scale doesn’t account for the distribution of cells across different body types, bone structures, blood volume and the fluctuation in mass that takes place when the cells interact with different nutrients and toxins.

The body is made up of trillions of cells and potentially trillions of microbial cells. The weight and life of those cells fluctuates in accordance with changes in the cell cycle and changes of the human microbiome. For example, exercise boosts the total number and diversity of gut microbe cells; antibiotics destroy these good microbe cells. These fluctuations in cell weight, when multiplied by the trillions, can alter the weight of the total person, moment to moment. Cells can be more or less dense from person to person and these changes fluctuate due to the health of the cell membrane and the life and duration of its cycles. In short, the health of these cells and their energy production should be what’s most important, not just the weight of a person.

Newly-invented scale measures the life and mass of individual cells

Professor Daniel J Müller, in collaboration with Christoph Gerber and Sascha Martin from the University of Basel and Jason Mercer from University College London have developed a new scale that measures the mass of living cells and tracks their weight changes in real time. This high resolution scale measures accurately to the trillionth of a gram and follows the cell cycle at the millisecond level. The new cell culture chamber activates a thin, microscopic, transparent silicon cantilever. Coated with collagen, this weighing arm dips down to the floor of the chamber and retrieves a cell. As the cell hangs on the underside of the weighing arm, a pulsing blue laser is activated at a fixed point on the end. An infrared laser is then applied, measuring the oscillations where the cell hangs. The cell’s mass is calculated by differentiating the oscillations measured with and without the cell.

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Researchers now able to study weight fluctuations relative to cell cycles changes

The new scale doesn’t stop with the cell’s weight measurement. A computer is used to chart the cell’s ever-changing weight in relation to changes that occur in the cell cycle. The weight fluctuations in the cell cycle can be measured day to day, hour to hour or as precise as the millisecond.

The cell culture can then be mounted on the object plate of a high performance fluorescence microscope so the internal processes of the cell can be studied. This allows researchers to monitor when the cell’s weight changes in accordance with specific changes during the cell cycle. For example, the cell’s weight changes during cell division. Various substances that enter the body interact with cells in different ways, causing changes in the cell’s mass. When viruses interact with cells, the mass can change quickly. The weight fluctuation stops only when the cell dies off. “We established that the weight of living cells fluctuates continuously by about one to four percent as they regulate their total weight,” says researcher Martínez-Martín. “A cell’s mass is a very good indicator of its physiology.”

Instead of relying on the narrow-minded weight generalization of the BMI scale, future health measurements will monitor the health of cellular cycles throughout the body. The mass of the cells will be important in relation to healthy processes within the cell. After all, it is cellular health that matters most, not some broad generalization scale that classifies the whole person as overweight and/or obese.

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