Engineered platforms for studying cell communication with the environment
Microfabrication and microfluidic devices are being used to study the interplay between complex signaling pathways that control intercellular adhesion and migration. Quantitative interactions between biochemical systems are difficult to address in vivo. However engineered microenvironments enable the quantitative, spatio-temporal control of chemical cues. With these powerful tools, we are quantitatively assessing the interplay between different cell receptors and their related signaling pathways controls underlying complex cell functions.
One NIH sponsored program is addressing mechanisms underlying metastasis and invasion in cancer. These cell processes are controlled by the interplay between cell-cell adhesion, which maintains tissue integrity, and cell migration triggered by growth factors or chemokines. In collaboration with with Fei Wang (http://www.life.illinois.edu/feiwang/) and Ralph Nuzzo (http://augustus.scs.uiuc.edu/nuzzogroup/), we use controlled concentration profiles of growth factors and adhesion proteins to define the biochemistry controlling cross-talk between cell adhesion and chemokine triggered cell migration. In conjunction with engineered cell environments, high resolution live cell imaging visualizes in real time how signals trigger the spatiotemporal changes in intracellular proteins underlying cell responses. A broad objective is to identify molecular mechanisms of disease and potential therapeutic targets for drug treatments.