Forces of Nature: The Role of Mechanics in Disease
Cells in the lung are smart, and when they sense the presence of infectious agents such as bacteria or a virus, they send out signals to immune cells to fight the invader. But they don’t always know what these unwelcome guests actually are. For example, Samir Ghadiali has found, lung cells interpret the pumping of air into the lung from a ventilator as an infection. Ghadiali’s work has revealed that prolonged use of a ventilator causes harm by stimulating an immune response, creating unwanted inflammation in the delicate lung environment. Ghadiali specializes in studying this phenomenon, called mechanotransduction, that occurs when mechanical forces inside the body give off chemical signals that generate unexpected cell responses. Cells themselves have mechanical properties, as well. Most recently, Ghadiali has teamed with a women’s health researcher to study one protein’s effect on breast cancer metastasis. While genes are known to be at play, Ghadiali is focusing on his discovery that when the protein is present, cancer cells stiffen up – which allows them to break away from a tumor. Once they make their escape, they take on more common metastatic cell characteristics, becoming pliable, like Play-Doh. This makes for smoother travel through tissue and blood vessels as they seek out other tissue to invade. This might mean that cell mechanics could be a precise diagnostic marker for metastatic disease.
Ghadiali is an associate professor of biomedical engineering and pulmonary, allergy, critical care and sleep medicine
Sign up for this lunch when you register for the meeting (limit 15)