Assistant professor Juan C. del Alamo received a prestigious CAREER Award in Fluid Dynamics from the National Science Foundation. The five year grant, entitled "Dynamics of anisotropic fluids: a frontier in intracellular microrheology" will support his group's research on the mechanical behavior of living soft matter.
The intracellular domain consists of a semi-dilute filamentous network embedded in a fluid phase. The rheological properties of this multiphase system play a determinant role in many cellular functions, ranging from cell migration (involved in cancer spreading, immune response, etc.) to the ability of the cell to convert mechanical stimuli into chemical activity (involved in stem cell differentiation, endothelial response to flow, etc).
Current experimental methods estimate intracellular stiffness and viscosity by measuring the Brownian mobility of intracellular submicron particles as they diffuse through the cytoplasm. The lack of fundamental knowledge about the flow elicited by the particles in such complex anisotropic environment constrains our ability to interpret intracellular microrheology experiments, and obstructs the advancement in our understanding of the mechanical processes regulating cell function. The goal of this project is to understand the hydrodynamics of submicron size particles inside the cytoplasm of live animal cells. The project will follow an integrated approach consisting of 1) analytical and computational studies that will set the foundations of a novel “directional” microrheology technique capable of measuring the viscoelastic properties of anisotropic semi-dilute networks, 2) the experimental implementation of this technique to quantify the anisotropic microrheological properties of live cells, and 3) the elucidation of the relation between these properties and the structural alignment of the cytoskeleton.
del Álamo’s Research Group