BOSTON As embryonic tissue develops, cells push and pull on each other, and they must do so correctly for the tissue to develop properly. Now scientists at Harvard University have devised the first method to measure these forces in three-dimensional (3D) tissues and living embryos.
The method, which involves injecting tiny oil droplets, could lead to new tools to diagnose cancer, hypertension, connective tissue diseases, and more. Scientists from the Wyss Institute for Biological Engineering at Harvard University and the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) reported the work online December 8 in Nature Methods.
"Now that we can quantitate cellular forces, we can find entirely new ways to diagnose the extraordinarily wide range of diseases that alter cell contractility and tissue stiffness," said Don Ingber, M.D., Ph.D., Founding Director of the Wyss Institute, Professor of Bioengineering at SEAS, and senior author of the study. "Just as important, we can answer crucial questions about development that have lay dormant for decades."
Biological tissues don't just sit there inside the body they are constantly in motion, with cells tugging on and nudging other cells and the extracellular matrix the molecular scaffold that knits cells together into tissues. As a result, tissues live in a state of dynamic tension, like a partially stretched rubber band.
Studies in lab-grown cells suggest that mechanical forces are as important in regulating biological function as chemicals and genes. But scientists had no way of studying those control mechanisms in developing embryos because they had no way of quantifying mechanical forces at specific positions in living tissues.
Such forces are particularly important as the body develops from the fertilized egg into tissues and organs with specialized shapes and functions a process known as morphogenesis. Biologists studying morphogenesis knew that as the embryo develops, me
|Contact: Dan Ferber|
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard