The research objective of this award is to clarify fibroblast mechanobiology by examining cellular response from mechanical stimuli, through intracellular mechanotransduction, and finally to changes in phenotype and function of the cell. Fibroblasts are ubiquitous cells found in most tissues and are primarily driven by mechanical cues with the goal of providing structural support to these tissues. To accomplish this, the following objectives are proposed: 1) develop a novel, combined system for applying well-defined strain regimes to cultured fibroblasts while assessing their response with atomic force microscopy and fluorescence microscopy, 2) examine fibroblasts under strain regimes mimicking growth, injury, and disease, and 3) expose fibroblasts that have selectively inhibited mechanotransductive elements (via genetic deletion or pharmacological inhibition) to strain regimes in a combinatorial fashion to reveal their interdependence in the mechanotransduction of extracellular forces to the nucleus of the cell.
The impact of this award will lead to innovations for the field of tissue engineering, which heavily relies on cell response to in vitro training regimes. Further, the outreach and educational component of this award is centered on the message that Engineering Innovation and will be targeted to minority and underrepresented middle and high school students, teachers, and counselors. Specifically, an interactive presentation will be developed for middle and high school students describing how biology is one of the next frontiers for engineers by beginning with the question: how does a cell know when it has been stretched? This presentation will incorporate biology, chemistry, medicine, and engineering to demonstrate how engineers innovatively solve complex problems, often at the interface between fields. The expectation is that this program will open the door of engineering to students, who because of their environment, may have never known that engineering was a possible, desirable, or exciting career.