The University of Southampton
Institute for Life Sciences

Cells work together to feel biomedical implants

Published: 6 June 2018
Image credit: Dr Nick Evans
Image credit: Dr Nick Evans and Camelia Tusan

Researchers from the University of Southampton, working with colleagues at the University of Iowa in the USA, have shown how human cells ‘feel’ how soft or stiff biomedical materials are by working together as teams.

The researchers showed that human bone cells form groups that pull strongly on the squashy materials on which they grow, enabling them to ‘feel’ deeply into them.  This means the design of biomedical implants for a range of diseases might have to be re-thought to make sure they function properly.

Dr Nick Evans said: “Implanted materials may eventually allow us to regrow organs in the body so we have a reduced need for transplants. And many biomaterials that are already implanted in the body sometimes don’t work as well as they should. We think that how hard or soft these materials are will really affect how well the cells around them work. In this research we found not only that cells can feel and respond to how soft these ‘biomaterials’ are, but also that they work in teams to feel objects that are a long way away, like the princess feeling the pea through a stack of mattresses”

Camelia Tusan, a PhD student in the Faculty of Medicine added: “The research could help us understand how to design biomaterials or implants better so that they integrate well with the body. This might include pumps for insulin release for diabetes, hip replacements, or even artificial organs in the future.”

The research is published in the journal Biophysical Journal - https://www.cell.com/biophysj/fulltext/S0006-3495(18)30462-4

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