Integrative Cell Mechanics Group

Membrane Mechanics

As the outmost layer of mammalian cells, plasma membrane separates intracellular contents from extracellular environment and its normal funtion is essential to maintain cellular homeostasis. We are interested in the mechanics of membrane systems, especially vesicles. While micron-sized artificial lipid vesicles (i.e. giant unilamellar vesicles) have been widely used as a model system to mimick cells, the significance of nanometer-sized vesicles have been realized in both biological and biomedical aspects. More specifically, exosomes found in nature play an important role in cell-cell communication and artifical nanoliposomes have been considered as the next-generation drug delivery systems. Our interests in membrane mechanics lies in the following two aspects:

Mechanics at Nano-Bio Interface

Virus-inspired nanoparticle-based diagnostic and therapeutic agents (i.e. nanomedicines) are considered as the next breakthrough in cancer research. To achieve maximized drug efficacy and/or amplified diagnositc singal, optimizing the design of nanoparticles to enable enhanced cellular uptake by harnessing the mechanics at the nano-bio interface becomes critical. Through combined computational, theoretical and experimental efforts, we have identified the underlying mechanisms that regulate nanoparticle-cell interaction by various aspects, including particle size, shape, surface chemistry, membrane properties, mechanical state of cells, etc. Our interests in mechanics at nano-bio interface lies in the following two aspects:

Mechanobiology

The biological complexity and high cost of animal models have made it a routine for biologists, pathologists and pharmacologists to test their hypotheses using simplified in vitro systems where, historically, cells are cultured on two-dimensional (2D) flat, rigid surfaces (e.g.petri dishes, flasks, glass coverslips, etc.). However, studies in the last two decades have clearly demonstrated that cells are able to actively probe their surroundings through multiple mechanotransduction signaling pathways. Considering the fact that cells in vivo are surrounded by soft extracellular matrices (ECMs) and/or neighboring cells, 3D scaffolds with similar mechano-physical properties as natural tissues can potentially better mimic the living environment of cells in vivo, and therefore represent the next-generation in vitro systems. We are aimed to identify the underlying principles that govern the mechanical states and behavior of cells in 3D matrix.