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Mimicking the push and pull of cell growth

NSF Award:

Transforming Kentucky's New Economy  (University of Kentucky Research Foundation)

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The human body has dozens of different kinds of cells and many of them, such as cardiac and vascular cells, are subject to forces and pressures that help maintain their functions. This pushing and pulling can distort the cells and change how they interact and "communicate" with each other. Cells detect external forces and even respond to this stimulation through a process known as "mechanosensing."   

University of Louisville (UofL) bioengineering professor Palaniappan Sethu and colleagues are building artificial environments that can help model the dynamic conditions of the body and, in turn, create a better understanding of how cells respond to forces.  But mimicking conditions isn't the end of the story. The ultimate goal is to grow and culture these cells within the artificial systems or platforms the group has developed.

So far the platforms exhibit the highest level of physiological relevance among known technologies. The two platforms are for heart and vascular cells, and apply the same mechanical loading (pressure, flow and stretch) that these cells experience in the body.  The researchers hope to culture cells that could be used as cardiac patches for patients with heart disease. They've also started exploring using their vascular platform for studies of atherosclerosis.  

Funding for the project came from the Kentucky NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). In addition to Sethu, UofL colleagues Guruprasad Giridharan and Bradley Keller, the research group includes Meng-Jer Lee of Wayne State University and Utkan Demirci of Brigham and Women's Hospital.


  • a cardiac cell culture model
A cardiac cell culture model.
Palaniappan Sethu, University of Louisville

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