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Faculty of Science
Department of Physics
Understanding how cells respond to physical forces in our bodies, and how these characteristics influence cell communications and networks.
Developing new ways to detect and treat many serious diseases, as well as ways to control the behaviour of individual cells and cell networks by using mechanical cues.
The Right Touch: A New Way to Understand Our Cells
Long before children are able to speak, they learn how to grab things, and for good reason, too: the sense of touch is one of the surest ways to understand the world. Why stare at a tower of blocks and guess what will happen if you remove one, when you can simply grab a block and watch the tower tumble?
But as much as we use touch to understand the world around us, it is only recently that this tool has become available to scientists working to understand the world inside of us.
As Canada Research Chair in Experimental Cell Mechanics, Dr. Andrew Pelling is touching living cells to see how they react. He's motivated by more than just simple curiosity; our cells are constantly subject to enormous mechanical forces that affect our health and well-being—forces that come from many places, including the movement of our muscles, organs and blood.
However, it remains a mystery how these mechanical forces are sensed and transmitted by cells. To understand this, Pelling is using advanced biophysical and molecular biology techniques, including tiny sensors that act as "fingers" able to literally feel cells. (He's even touched the developing heart of a butterfly).
Pelling's ultimate goal is to apply the new knowledge he gains to improving detection and treatments for cancer, muscular dystrophy, heart disease, and other diseases involving inhibited mechanical properties and behaviours coming from genetic mutations and/or biochemical cues. His work will also shed light on the normal functioning of cells, which needs a precise balance between biochemistry and mechanical forces to control important processes such as gene regulation, proliferation and movement.
By understanding how biological pathways are activated, and how cell behaviour might be controlled, Pelling will move us closer to a promising future where we can control small movements inside our bodies as confidently as we do large movements outside.
Featured Awards and Recognition
- Member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists (2018)
- TED Fellow (2016)
- Global Young Academy (2012)
- Early Researcher Award (2010)