Predicting Single Cell Mechanical Behavior: Integrated Insight of Mechanical Theory and Microfluidic Device Experiments
The mechanics of single cells, or how cells deform and respond to forces from the surrounding environment, is important both for understanding fundamental cellular biology and diagnosing and treating diseases. For example, red blood cells are less deformable and stiffer when infected by malaria. Vesicles, simpler enclosures made of lipid (fatty) molecule bilayers, can be used as simple models of living cells. Vesicles also have their own biologically inspired applications in green energy technology, biosensor technology, and targeted drug delivery. This project brings together the integrated insight of novel microfluidic devices and rigorous mechanical theory from engineering to investigate single vesicle and cell mechanical behavior. By observing cell deformation under well-controlled flow conditions and simultaneously shaping a theory to explain the observations, a predictive cell mechanics simulation tool will be developed. This project will improve understanding of (1) the response of synthetic vesicles and natural cells to a range of external flows from pure rotational to pure extensional flows, (2) the impact of membrane molecular structure on vesicle and cell mechanics and how theory can capture this effect, and (3) the adaptation of this microfluidic device and accompanying theory to a high-throughput method for studying single cell mechanics in biological research.
Broader impacts of this research include advancing understanding in fundamental cell mechanics while also promoting teaching and learning through the training and mentorship of undergraduate researchers and participation in K-12 outreach programs. The fellow will gain experience and training in cellular biology to complement a mechanical engineering background, spurring on a multi-disciplinary research career.