Engineering Cells and Microsystems to Study Mechanobiology

Seminar | March 13 | 12-1 p.m. | 106 Stanley Hall

 Beth Pruitt, University of California, Santa Barbara

 Bioengineering (BioE)

Living organisms generate and respond to mechanical forces and these forces are sensed and
created by specialized cells in the body. Force generation and sensing, or more broadly the
mechanobiology coupling tissue (cell) mechanics and biology, are essential in normal development,
wound healing, and tissue homeostasis. Our mechanical senses of hearing and touch allow us to
navigate our environment and interact with one another, yet they remain the least understood of our
perceptive senses. Basic life sustaining functions such as breathing, circulation, and digestion are
driven autonomously by coordinated contraction of specialized muscle cells, yet how these functions
incorporate active feedback via force sensing at the cellular level is an area of active study.
Meanwhile, a variety of specialized stretch activated receptors and mechanically mediated
biochemical signaling pathways have been identified in recent years. Importantly, defects in proteins
of these mechanically mediated pathways and receptors have been implicated in disease states
spanning cardiovascular disease, cancer growth and metastasis, neuropathy, and deafness. Thus,
understanding the mechanical basis of homeostasis (health) and defective cell renewal function
(disease) increasingly requires us to consider the role of mechanics. To study how cells and tissues
integrate mechanical signals, we and others have developed specialized cell cultures systems and
micromachined tools to stimulate and measure forces and displacements at the scale of proteins and
cells. A key feature of such experiments is the ability to observe cell outputs such as morphological
changes, protein expression, electrophysiological signaling, force generation and transcriptional
activity in response to mechanical stimuli.