By thinking of cells as programmable robots, researchers at Rice University hope to someday direct how they grow into the tiny blood vessels that feed the brain and help people regain functions lost to stroke and disease.
Rice bioengineer Amina Qutub and her colleagues simulate patterns of microvasculature cell growth and compare the results with real networks grown in their lab. Eventually, they want to develop the ability to control the way these networks develop.
The results of a long study are the focus of a new paper in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.
"We want to be able to design particular capillary structures," said Qutub, an assistant professor of bioengineering based at Rice's BioScience Research Collaborative. "In our computer model, the cells are miniature adaptive robots that respond to each other, respond to their environment and pattern into unique structures that parallel what we see in the lab."
When brain cells are deprived of oxygen a condition called hypoxia that can lead to strokes they pump out growth factor proteins that signal endothelial cells. Those cells, which line the interior of blood vessels, are prompted to branch off as capillaries in a process called angiogenesis to bring oxygen to starved neurons.
How these new vessels form networks and the shapes they take are of great interest to bioengineers who want to improve blood flow to parts of the brain by regenerating the microvasculature.
"The problem, especially as we age, is that we become less able to grow these blood vessels," Qutub said. "At the same time, we're at higher risk for strokes and neurodegenerative diseases. If we can understand how to guide the vessel structures and help them self-repair, we are a step closer to aiding treatment."
First, they need to understand how individual cells respond to stimuli. To model the process in a computer requires rules, Qutub said. In these simulations, e
|Contact: David Ruth|