Mechanobiology focuses on the effects of the structural micro-environment and force-induced deformations on molecules, cells and tissues. These mechanical factors, when combined with chemical signals, determine the response of an individual cell that ultimately contributes to multicellular functions in whole organisms.

The actin network (red) of a human breast cancer adeno- carcinoma cell, from the Lim Chwee Teck lab.

Research at the MBI

At the Mechanobiology Institute we are exploring this process in several different contexts, including the differentiation of stem cells and cancer cell pathology, both of which are readily governed by mechanical signals from the extracellular matrix.The field of mechanobiology arose from the cross-roads of multiple disciplines including; cell and molecular biology, engineering, physics and computer science. New technologies such as high resolution time-lapse microscopy and micro-scale devices have vastly enhanced the study of mechanobiology, by enabling the description of complex functions at the sub-micrometer level.

Our research efforts take advantage of these state-of-the-art tools, which we are privileged to have here at MBI, in order to address unanswered questions across multiple disciplines.Particular areas of expertise at MBI include Development and Cancer, Stem Cells and Tissue EngineeringMicrobes and Pathogenesis, and Theory and Modeling.

A mouse embryonic fibroblast of the NIH3T3 cell line from the Yasuhiro Sawada lab.

Development and Cancer

Mechanical forces, which are ubiquitous in nature, are well known to drive tissue formation and impact cellular function. These forces are crucial in regulating cell morphogenesis, migration and even adhesion to the extracellular matrix. Mechanical forces therefore impact a wide variety of biological processes, from cell proliferation and differentiation to tissue mass homeostasis and metastasis – all processes towards which our research is focused. Read more about our work in this field.

Mouse embryonic fibroblasts from the Zaidel-Bar lab.

Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells capable of proliferation, self-renewal and differentiation towards specific phenotypes. The differentiation of cells is controlled by a variety of cues, including the various mechanical forces at play in their surrounding microenvironments. In particular, the nature of the substrate on which these cells lie and its innate stiffness are known to be important in determining cell fate. Research at the MBI aims to elucidate the currently poorly understood effects of mechanical factors on stem cell biology. Learn more about MBI’s research in this field.

Growing E.coli, as captured by Jeesun Lim of the Kenney lab.

Microbes and Pathogenesis

How do microorganisms interact with their environment and sense mechanical cues? How is cell division machinery organized and how does it sense force? How do forces get transmitted to the nucleus and change gene? These are all questions that we are working towards answering, through the use of model systems of bacteria, fungi and archae. Learn more about this area of our research.

Theory and Modeling

Research at the MBI applies a range of experimental approaches to study behaviors of cells in response to different mechanical stimuli. These efforts are greatly supported by theoretical studies and modeling of the possible mechanisms involved. Working alongside experimental methods, modeling allows us to incorporate and readily control various parameters that may influence the application and detection of the mechanical forces in question.