Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2015
Using Single-Cell Mechanical Properties to Predict Pattern Formation and Mechanical Response in Biological Tissues
Animals tend to move around a lot. In many cases, so do the cells within their bodies.
For wound healing, embryonic development and the growth of cancerous tumors, cells must initially rearrange themselves and move, almost like a liquid, over relatively large distances. At other times, they must behave more like a solid – for example, to support the weight of body parts or to act as a protective layer.
M. Lisa Manning, assistant professor of physics at Syracuse University, has received Cottrell Scholar funding to study how mechanical changes to cells generate these liquid-to-solid transitions within living tissue.
Liquid-to-solid transitions in tissues are similar to those in non-biological materials, such as “jamming” transitions, where a material becomes rigid with increasing density, and “glass” transitions, which occur when viscous, lava-like materials are cooled down into a rigid state.
“When tissues are close to one of these transitions, small changes affecting single-cell properties can greatly alter the mechanical response of the tissue,” Manning said.
Manning and her students are studying groups of cancer cells, probing how single-cell mechanical properties predict tumor organization and large-scale mechanical responses. Part of the work focus on investigating how reorganization of structures inside the cell, such as the cytoskeleton, influence large-scale properties of dense cell masses.
Based on those investigations, Manning will attempt to develop a theoretical framework that describes how individual cells control jamming transitions in tissues. She hopes her work will identify new avenues for healing tissues and preventing disease.
Manning is using some of her Cottrell Scholar funding to develop an online math assessment and tutorial aimed at problems in introductory physics courses, as well as to develop biophysics modules to explain cutting-edge research. She is also working to improve training for graduate assistants through a newly developed course.