Cells in our body are able to exert mechanical forces to their environment. They push and pull the surrounding matrix in order to change their shape, divide, and move. Understanding how cells exert these forces and thereby remodel the environment is important not only for uncovering the basic principles of cell physiology and pathological disorders, but also for developing novel approaches in regenerative medicine. Uncovering the mechanism of cell traction is challenging, however, because of the difficulty in (1) quantifying cell forces in native environment and (2) the complex mechanical behavior of extracellular matrix.
In this Master’s research project, you will explore the possibilities of circumventing these challenges by developing a novel technique to apply known, cell-like forces at cell-like (micrometer) length scale. The technique will involve innovative light-induced smart material that can deform on cue. Moreover, you will investigate how these cell-like forces are transmitted to the environment. When the technique is optimized, you will investigate how living cells respond to forces produced by these cell-like particles. This project is a collaboration between groups in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Chemistry and is suited for students interested in smart biomimetic systems, image analysis, and cell–matrix interactions.