In my lab we study how cells interact with their physical environment. Cells are not only responsive to chemical signals around them, they actually feel and respond to pressure, tension, and stiffness. We are developing microscopes that allow us to study how cells living in 3D environments change when introduced to changes in their physical environment. An important example of my research relates to breast cancer. Researchers have shown that cancerous mammary cells are more likely to metastasize and spread throughout the body in a stiff environment. This has lead researchers to seek to develop drugs that target specifically how cancer notices or fails to notice its surroundings and how sudden changes in physical cues may influence cancer progression. My NSF GRFP funding allows me to develop a system to further explore this phenomena. Our team will for the first time be able to perturb and measure stiffness in tissue and watch in real time how cancer cells respond. We are very excited for this opportunity and I cannot wait to share more with everyone as this project progresses.
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