Director’s Message

Like the blind men describing the elephant, many different perspectives are important for providing an integrated understanding of the mechanical functions of cells and tissues.

Michael Sheetz, DirectorIn February 2009, the National Research Foundation announced the creation of the 4th Research Centre of Excellence, dedicated to the study of mechanobiology.  This is part of Singapore’s bold effort to build world-class investigator-led research centres with a global impact, focusing on areas aligned with the long-term strategic interests of the country.  With the resources to build cores in nanotechnology, modern microscopy and molecular biology, the Mechanobiology Institute, Singapore (MBI) today is poised to solve problems of cellular mechanics that underlie normal development and a variety of maladies from cancer and cardiovascular disease to aging.

From bacteria to humans, mechanics is critical to our understanding of cell and tissue function.  How cells are shaped, how they move, how their growth is controlled, and how they form larger tissues are fundamental questions that are biomechanical.  With a deeper understanding of the mechanical functions that underlie many processes from cancer to aging, new paradigms can be developed to treat diseases and facilitate tissue regeneration.

Our Institute is developing a new paradigm, encouraging innovative approaches to understanding biological function and providing the central support needed to fully describe the biomechanical as well as biochemical bases of function (read more about our research).  This requires a community of motivated investigators who are interested in using the best methods from any discipline to solve problems and central resources to enable the testing of any model. In the physical sciences, the Bell Labs mixed scientists from many different backgrounds in a stimulating environment with the tools that they needed and many important innovations resulted.  Our problem is different.  We wish to understand the existing machines that are complex cells and tissues.  Like the blind men describing the elephant, many different perspectives are important for providing an integrated understanding of the mechanical functions of cells and tissues.

Information at the level of the individual proteins or even protein functional modules does not explain the bases of complex functions at the cellular or tissue level.  Many biological functions depend upon the emergent properties of hundreds to thousands of proteins that involve spatial, temporal and mechanical parameters as well as the protein biochemistry to perform the process.

To help in focusing our efforts on important aspects of functions, we are cataloging the major mechanical functions of cells, the specific steps involved in those functions and the protein modules that perform each step at MBInfo.  This is a monumental task to enable others in the scientific community to contribute.  MBInfo is also important for our outreach and teaching effort.  From the basic understanding of function will come a better understanding of drug targets and new therapies.

The MBI is just starting on its mission and we welcome the applications of talented investigators to join us.  Our teams of investigators include engineers, mathematicians, physicists, chemists, biologists and computer scientists.

We look forward to contributing to Singapore’s dynamic knowledge-based economy and creating the world’s leading institute in mechanobiology.

Professor Michael Sheetz