AFM (atomic force microscopy) analysis, both of fixed cells, and live cells in physiological environments, is set to offer a step change in the research of cellular function. With the ability to map cell topography and morphology, provide structural details of surface proteins and their expression patterns and to detect pico-Newton force interactions, AFM represents an exciting addition to the arsenal of the cell biologist. With the explosion of new applications, and the advent of combined instrumentation such as AFM-confocal systems, the biological application of AFM has come of age. The use of AFM in the area of biomedical research has been proposed for some time, and is one where a significant impact could be made. Fixed cell analysis provides qualitative and quantitative subcellular and surface data capable of revealing new biomarkers in medical pathologies. Image height and contrast, surface roughness, fractal, volume and force analysis provide a platform for the multiparameter analysis of cell and protein functions. Here, we review the current status of AFM in the field and discuss the important contribution AFM is poised to make in the understanding of biological systems.
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