Original thinking: Probing early growth may reveal new paths to treatment
Biologists have long been fascinated by the first moments when cells divide to become complex tissues and organisms. Now engineers — with an eye toward treating cancer and regenerating tissue — are increasingly joining the hunt for the quantitative principles and underlying mathematics that determine how these processes succeed or fail.
Stanislav Shvartsman Ph.D. ’99, a professor of chemical and biological engineering who also holds an appointment in Princeton’s Lewis Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, is developing statistical approaches to understanding the way chemicals spread signals across an embryo. Shvartsman and colleagues published a breakthrough in this work Oct. 17 in the journal Development.
In the lab of Celeste Nelson, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, Cecillia Lui ’11 recently turned her senior thesis into a peer-reviewed article on the mechanics of stem-cell differentiation in breast tissue, which could have implications for understanding breast cancer. Another former undergraduate, Jay Kwak ’09, is co-author with Nelson of a new study revealing that normal lung-tissue development is governed by a single mathematical equation.
In the same department, Assistant Professor Clifford Brangwynne focuses on a cell component called the nucleolus, a loose confederation of proteins and RNA that produces the hardware that builds cells from the inside out. A long-term goal is to tune the properties of this tiny bioreactor to adjust cell growth, which could be useful in battling the runaway expansion that characterizes cancer.