Studying the forces experienced between cells and their surroundings
Just like a hand on the shoulder or a jab of an elbow can convey a message, physical interactions influence cell behaviour. Molecular machinery senses and transmits these mechanical cues in part through 3-dimensional networks built of individual fibres surrounding cells – the extracellular matrix. Investigating how forces are felt by cells is difficult in conventional studies on a flat surface, so researchers have developed a robotic platform that allows controlled adjustment of an artificial matrix (video, first flexing the network and then showing cells embedded on the structure aligning with the motion). This arena for poking and prodding cells to probe the details of how forces affect their function could help show how helpful nudges keep healthy cells on track, and what goes wrong when push becomes shove and unbalanced mechanical forces result from, or cause, disease and dysfunction.
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