Daniel Irimia, PH.D., M.D.
|Title||Assistant Professor of Surgery|
|Institution||Massachusetts General Hospital|
|Address||Massachusetts General Hospital|
Surgery/BioMEMS Resource Center, Rm #1404
114 16th Street
Charlestown MA 02129
Every cell in the human body has the ability to move. Cellular motility is as important in preserving our health, as it is during the course of diseases. Yet, despite major advances in the molecular biology of cellular motility, our understanding of the role of cellular motility in health and disease is still limited. One major obstacle is technological, and only recently new tools to enable precise measurements of cell motility characteristics and patterns of migration have begun to emerge. We are leading these efforts by designing microfluidic devices for measuring the motility of leukocytes and cancer cells, from clinically relevant samples.
Neutrophils, the white blood cells that protect us from harmful microbes, have remarkable migration capabilities. Despite being less than 10 microns in diameter, neutrophils can be very smart about the direction in which they move. For example, more than 90% of the human neutrophils are able to pick up the shorter route towards a chemical stimulus. Here you can see how “smart” neutrophils are at asymmetric
bifurcations. The ability of neutrophils to orient is lost in patients with severe burn injuries, contributing to the higher rates of infections in these patients.
Cancer cells have surprising abilities to move and orient, which enable them to migrate away from the primary tumor and form metastases (ultimately responsible for 90% of deaths in cancer patients). For example, cancer cells are able find the shortest path to exit microscopic mazes, even in the absence of any externally imposed gradients. Here you can see how one cancer cell navigates through a maze
. Our studies provide support for a self-guidance mechanism that epithelial cells can employ when confined in small spaces. We also know that cancer cells can move several times their body length every hour. To put things into perspective, it would take less than one month for a breast cancer cell moving through the lymphatic vessels, to travel 10 centimeters from a tumor in the breast to a local lymph node. Here you can watch breast cancer cells “speeding” through small channels at 200 µm/hour
These examples of cellular motility revealed in the controlled conditions of microfluidic devices are not just fascinating examples of biological sophistication. They could also open exciting opportunities for probing into disease processes in novel ways, lead to new approaches to treating infections, inflammation, and bring hope that stopping the progression of cancers will eventually be possible in the near future.
To encourage the engineering of better tools for measuring cell motility and the application of these to important problems in cell motility, we are organizing the first ever Dicty World Race. We asked scientists worldwide to apply their knowledge to make Dictyostelium and neutrophil-like cells that move faster and smarter. In the mean time, we are preparing some challenging mazes that these cells will have to navigate towards typical chemoattractants. The Race will take place on 05/16 in Boston, will be broadcast online, and preceded by a hands-on workshop on microfluidic tools for cell migration. Such knowledge could lead to better drugs to enhance white blood cell activity against microbes or slow down the movement of cancer cells during metastasis. Join us for the first ever Dicty World Race
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