Boston, MA – Cells comprising a tissue can pack into disorderly geometries much as do grains of sand in a sandcastle. In doing so they can freeze into a fixed shape–as in a sandcastle–or flow like sand poured from a beach bucket. The finding, reported by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Northeastern University, and MIT, provides insights into organ formation in an embryo, healing of a wound, and even invasion of cells into surrounding tissue, as occurs in cancer.
“This finding makes a deep connection between the physics of inert granular matter such as sand and the geometry of multicellular living systems,” said lead author Lior Atia, a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Jeffrey Fredberg, professor of bioengineering and physiology at Harvard Chan School. “Due to the nature of how a cell nestles among its immediate neighbors, a scientist can now look at cell shapes and make a reasonable guess as to why, and how fast, those cells will migrate, remodel, or invade surrounding tissues.”
The study appears online April 2, 2018 in Nature Physics.
Previous work by Fredberg and colleagues had documented the importance of collective cellular behavior in asthma, showing that cells
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