Biomedical applications

A better understanding of cellular dynamics stands to impact on medical research.

Knowledge of how cell shape determines biological function has extensive applications to medicine and our group is actively involved in studying cellular dynamics associated with common and pervasive disease states. Examples include:

Diabetic cardiomyopathy

About 80 per cent of diabetic patients die of heart failure via a process that involves stress to cardiac mitochondria. We are investigating the interplay between mitochondrial function, the structure of heart cells and contractile function. The resulting computer models allow us to test and discover new molecular treatment options.

Cell signalling

In the heart, calcium triggers cellular contraction at each heartbeat. The same molecule, however, can signal the cell nucleus to induce cell growth triggered by pregnancy, long-term increase in demand due to lifestyle changes or disease. Our aim is to uncover the mystery that allows calcium to play two roles at the same time – how can it make the heart beat as well as make the heart grow?

Cancer metastasis

Early detection and prevention of metastasis is essential to the survival of cancer patients. Our aim is to understand how tumour cells separate from a primary tumour, travel through blood, lymph or the interstitium and invade a healthy organ. Of particular interest is the study of breast cancer metastasis and diagnosis. In particular, we are investigating why increased composition of non-fatty tissue increases a woman’s risk for breast cancer.

Red blood cell mechanics

Red blood cell stiffness has proven to be an important marker of disease. Parasites such as malaria modify the deformability of the red blood cell to survive filtration and immune systems within the host. Here we are measuring and modelling red blood cell structure and mechanics to understand how deformability changes in different conditions.