A New Paradigm to Understand Cell Health
“It has been known for a while that a lot can be learned about the health of a cell by analyzing its geometry—its shape and size—and topology—its arrangement with neighboring cells,” explains Buceta. “Healthy cells follow a certain distribution pattern. A change in this distribution pattern can be observed in unhealthy cells.”
An analytical model that assumes a uniform structure is no longer sufficient, says Buceta. The team is interested in delving further into this area in order to develop new tools that characterize tissues using information about epithelial cells’ three-dimensional shape.
“It is now possible to conduct a more realistic analysis that will consider the different cellular relationships and mechanical interactions between the epithelial cells in normal and pathological conditions,” adds Buceta’s collaborator, Luis M. Escudero of the University of Seville in Spain.
“Despite significant progress, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine still falls short when it comes to producing tissues that are duplicates of the native counterpart,” says Buceta’s Lehigh colleague, Lesley Chow, assistant professor of bioengineering and materials science and engineering.
Buceta and his colleagues believe that the discovery of scutoid-shaped epithelial cells could be used to help advance tissue engineering, which seeks to create living, functional tissues to repair or replace diseased or damaged tissue. It could impact in particular the design of tissue scaffolds, which are biodegradable structures, often implanted, that provide the environment for cells to regenerate.
Chow says that this work points to a need for those studying biomaterials to take into account the complex cell-cell interactions and morphologies found in nature, with the hope that “understanding more about how these shapes influence cell and tissue behavior will lead to new strategies to promote native-like tissue formation.”
For Buceta, regenerative medicine offers a new area in which to apply the principles of physics to gain a better understanding of biological phenomena—and perhaps help shape the growing and important field of biomedicine.
This story originally appeared as "Shaping Biomedicine" in the 2019 Lehigh Research Review.