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Unexpected discovery of the ways cells move could boost understanding of complex diseases
Date:6/23/2013

Boston, MA A new discovery about how cells move inside the body may provide scientists with crucial information about disease mechanisms such as the spread of cancer or the constriction of airways caused by asthma. Led by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), investigators found that epithelial cellsthe type that form a barrier between the inside and the outside of the body, such as skin cellsmove in a group, propelled by forces both from within and from nearby cellsto fill any unfilled spaces they encounter.

The study appears June 23, 2013 in an advance online edition of Nature Materials.

"We were trying to understand the basic relationship between collective cellular motions and collective cellular forces, as might occur during cancer cell invasion, for example. But in doing so we stumbled onto a phenomenon that was totally unexpected," said senior author Jeffrey Fredberg, professor of bioengineering and physiology in the HSPH Department of Environmental Health and co-senior investigator of HSPH's Molecular and Integrative Cellular Dynamics lab.

Biologists, engineers, and physicists from HSPH and IBEC worked together to shed light on collective cellular motion because it plays a key role in functions such as wound healing, organ development, and tumor growth. Using a technique called monolayer stress microscopywhich they invented themselvesthey measured the forces affecting a single layer of moving epithelial cells. They examined the cells' velocity and direction as well as tractionhow some cells either pull or push themselves and thus force collective movement.

As they expected, the researchers found that when an obstacle was placed in the path of an advancing cell layerin this case, a gel that provided no tractionthe cells moved around it, tightly hugging the sides of the gel as they passed. However, the researchers also found something surp
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Contact: Marge Dwyer
mhdwyer@hsph.harvard.edu
617-432-8416
Harvard School of Public Health
Source:Eurekalert

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