The expansive growth and differentiation potential of human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) make them a promising source of cells for regenerative medicine. However, this promise is off set by the propensity for spontaneous or uncontrolled differentiation to result in heterogeneous cell populations. Cell elasticity has recently been shown to characterize particular cell phenotypes, with undifferentiated and differentiated cells sometimes showing significant differences in their elasticities. In this study, we determined the Young’s modulus of hESCs by atomic force microscopy using a pyramidal tip. Using this method we are able to take point measurements of elasticity at multiple locations on a single cell, allowing local variations due to cell structure to be identified. We found considerable differences in the elasticity of the analyzed hESCs, reflected by a broad range of Young’s modulus (0.05-10 kPa). This surprisingly high variation suggests that elasticity could serve as the basis of a simple and efficient large scale purification/separation technique to discriminate subpopulations of hESCs.

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