Determining the influence of cell alignment on cell generated mechanical stress via finite element modeling

Project description

Many cell types exert contractile stresses on their surroundings via actin stress fibers. The magnitude and direction of the cellular stresses depend on the (mechanical) environment, e.g. on the stiffness or anisotropy. Understanding and controlling the cell stress is important for cardiovascular tissue engineering in order to obtain mechanically functioning tissues. For tissue engineered heart valves, for example, too high cellular stress can lead to retraction of the leaflets, while too low cellular stress can lead to dilation of the valve.
One key factor in regulating the cell stress is the organization of the cells themselves. In all tissues, cells have a specific alignment, which can have a large influence on the cell generated stress. In previous 2D studies on cellular stress, however, the cells are either completely aligned in one direction or randomly oriented. Since the alignment in most biological tissues is usually less extreme, it is difficult to translate the results of these studies to the in vivo situation. To bridge the gap between these two extreme alignments, we would like to investigate the influence of the degree of cell alignment on the stress exerted by individual cells. We hypothesize that more cellular alignment leads to a stronger alignment of the actin stress fibers and thus to higher stresses exerted in the main direction of the cell.
To investigate this, we use the micro-contact printing technique to create different degrees of cell alignment in combination with the thin film method to measure the contractile properties of a cell monolayer. To be able to translate the experimental data to stress exerted by (single) cells, finite element modeling is needed. Therefore, the goal of this graduation project is to create a finite element model of the experimental method to determine the influence of the degree of cell alignment on cellular stress.

Requirements

Affinity with finite element modeling and Matlab. You also have the possibility to do experimental work to verify the model, however, this is not obligatory. The project will preferably start in August or September.