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Epithelial cell sheets as engineering materials: mechanics, resilience and malleability

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - EpiMech (Epithelial cell sheets as engineering materials: mechanics, resilience and malleability)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-02-28

Epithelial tissues are cohesive layers of cells, which line free and internal surfaces in our body and perform crucial tasks such as protecting us against pathogens or desiccation, absorbing nutrients, secreting substances, or shaping a developing embryo. These living materials can thus perform multiple functions. They are subjected to enormous deformations, which they must withstand, and at the same time they need to be malleable to remodel when healing wounds or developing 3D structures. The premise of the project is that, if quantitatively understood and controlled, epithelial tissues could serve as living multifunctional engineering materials, capable of out-performing artificial counterparts in multiple applications. The goal of the project is to develop a quantitative understanding of how the rules that govern the behaviour of these living materials, and to use it to manipulate their shape and mechanical properties in such a way that their function can be optimized. This project will provide the background for new bionic technologies combining biological and artificial materials, to be applied in biomedicine or in other fields.
Towards the goals of the project, an interdisciplinary team has developed new methods to measure the forces within epithelial tissues, to control their shape in 3D in vitro, and new theoretical and computational models to understand and predict the dynamics and mechanics of cells and tissues.
Our project is identifying new rational, theory-based, strategies to manipulate epithelial tissues in vitro and control their shape in 3D, which will change the way we view these systems. In particular, our results will enable their use as engineering materials in bionic materials and devices.