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Posted: December 11, 2007
2008 Nanobio Symposium preview: Donald Ingber - bio-inspired nanotechnology
(Nanowerk News) It was the simple elegance of a Kenneth Snelson sculpture that inspired Harvard Medical School Professor Donald Ingber to adopt a more mechanical view of the growth and development of cells and tissue. Ingber will share some of his insights at the NanoBio Symposium on May 2, 2008, hosted by Johns Hopkins University’s Institute for NanoBioTechnology.
Ingber is the Judah Folkman Professor of Vascular Biology in the Department of Pathology at Harvard Medical School, and Departments of Pathology and Surgery at Children’s Hospital Boston. He also serves as acting co-director of Harvard’s Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Director at Children’s Hospital of Harvard’s Center for Integration in Medicine and Innovative Technology.
At the symposium Ingber plans to discuss “bio-inspired nanotechnology.”
“Nanotechnologists dream of building things that are as multifunctional, capable and flexible as living materials,” Ingber says. “I will share what we have learned about how chemical and physical signals, as well as soluble stimuli, regulate cell behavior so that nanotechnologists can leverage this information to build materials that mimic living materials.”
The spark that fired Ingber’s imagination to investigate cells in novel ways occurred decades ago when, as an undergraduate at Yale, he took a course in sculpture and became intrigued by the forces at work in Snelson’s tensegrity models. (The term “tensegrity” was coined from “tension” and “integrity” by architect and designer R. Buckminster Fuller, the namesake of the 60-carbon atom “fullerenes” or “bucky balls.”)
Ingber has devoted his career to studying how living cells assemble themselves at the nanometer scale using tensegrity architecture by distributing minute forces over the extracellular matrix (ECM) and intracellular cytoskeleton. ECM, also known as the “basement membrane” in the epithelial lining tissues of our bodies, provides structure and support to cells, as well as aids in cell adhesion, anchoring, and cell-cell communication. A break in the ECM tells pathologists that the cells growing there may be cancerous; 90 percent of the time this is true.
“Pathologists view the extracellular matrix as a host barrier through which a malignant tumor must gain the ability to invade,” Ingber says. “I view it as something that regulates cell growth and pattern formation, and when it goes awry, it can lead to cancer development.”
To this end, Ingber investigates how cells go about sensing their surroundings and how the ECM contributes to tumor formation. He has authored more than 250 papers of this subject, including seminal publications on how cell surface receptors—integrins—mediate intracellular signals with the ECM and how cytoskeletal networks regulate tissue development.