A Touching Way to Understand Cells
Long before children are able to speak, they learn how to grab things. This is for good reason, as the sense of touch is one of the surest ways by which to understand the world. But as much as we use touch to understand the world around us, it is only recently that this method has become available to scientists working to understand the world inside of us.
Dr. Andrew Pelling, Canada Research Chair in Experimental Cell Mechanics, is touching and stretching living cells to see how they react. Cells are constantly subject to mechanical forces that affect our health and well-being—forces that emanate from many places, including the movement of our muscles, organs and blood.
However, it remains a mystery how these mechanical forces are sensed and transmitted by cells. To understand this, Pelling is using advanced biophysical techniques, including tiny sensors that act as “fingers” to literally feel cells.
Pelling’s goal is to apply the knowledge he gains to improving understanding, detection and treatment of cancer, muscular dystrophy and heart disease. His research will also shed light on the normal functioning of cells, which require a precise balance between biochemistry and mechanical forces to control important processes such as gene regulation, proliferation and movement.
By understanding how biological pathways are activated, and how cell behaviour may be controlled, Pelling’s research will move us closer to a promising future where we can control small movements inside our bodies as confidently as we do large movements outside.