How do cells sense and respond to mechanical signals
Cells in tissues exert forces as they squeeze, stretch, flex and pull on each other. These forces are incredibly small, on the scale of piconewtons, but they are essential for cell survival, proliferation, and differentiation. Key proteins involved in sensing mechanical forces, are the cadherin family of cell-cell adhesion proteins. However, the biophysical mechanisms by which cadherins sense and interpret mechanical forces are unknown. A large fraction of my group’s research is aimed at addressing this fundamental question.
Bioengineering tool development
Transformative advances in mechanobiology have been constrained by the lack of automated, high throughput, high resolution, techniques that can quantify the effect of mechanical force on protein structure-function. My group is developing ultra-sensitive bioengineering tools that can exert molecular-scale forces on the cell surface and precisely image their downstream effects, with previously unprecedented, single molecule resolution.