Engineering Microrobots to Probe Cells and Tissues

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The extracellular matrix (ECM) is an essential component of healthy tissue that provides structure and support. However, in maladies including cancer, it is now understood that the ECM can also play a harmful role in disease progression and that characteristics of the tumor micro-environment arise in part from mechanical interactions between malignant and non-transformed cells within the ECM.

 

 

Understanding the factors that contribute to tumor initiation, growth, and migration is crucial for developing effective diagnostic and therapeutic tools. While it is known that the ECM changes in tumors, resulting in a stiffer tissue, the lack of tools to precisely control the mechanical stimuli at the cellular level limits the study of how different mechanical cues impact tumor cell behavior and their potential implications for therapeutic strategies.

Our research in this field seeks to uncover new targets for treatment and mechanical cues that can be integrated into the design of diagnostic and therapeutic nanosystems. By using models that mimic tumors or simply the ECM, we are incorporating magnetic microrobots to apply controlled mechanical stimuli via custom magnetic instrumentation. This allows us to infer local mechanical properties, study cellular responses, such as proliferation, migration, and ECM reorganization, to better understand the influence of mechanical cues on tumor cell behavior.

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