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Sensing cells and tissues in disease models: Exploring forces with Cell-Mimicking Beads

November 14th at 6 p.m. (CET)

Dr Salvatore Girardo, Max Planck Institute in conversation with Lea Udovč, Slovenian Press Agency, Slovenia

In our daily lives, just like we sense and adapt to our surroundings, the cells, tissues, and organs inside our bodies also interact with their environment, guiding vital functions. Sometimes, these interactions play a role in the development of diseases. To better understand these complex processes, we need special tools that can measure how cells interact with their surroundings.

One intriguing aspect of this interaction is how mechanical forces come into play. Cells can change their physical traits, like size and ability to deform, in response to these forces. Think about how white blood cells can squeeze through tiny blood vessels to reach sites of infection. Studying how forces affect cells and tissues, how their mechanical properties change, and how this influences their behavior can reveal new insights into disease mechanisms.

In our research team, we have developed micro-beads made of hydrogel that mimic the physical characteristics of cells and use them as sensors for mechanical forces. When these particles experience force, they change shape. By measuring this shape change, we learn about the forces affecting real cells. This knowledge is relevant for developing novel tools for disease diagnosis, drug discovery and personalized medicine.

Salvatore Girardo is a Physicist with expertise in microfabrication technologies, particularly in the field of microfluidics for applications in biology and biophysics. He holds a PhD in Nanoscience from the University of Salento (Italy) and has authored 60 scientific publications, as well as being an inventor on 3 patents. Salvatore is also a co-founder of Rivercyte, a company specializing in devices and software for the analysis of cell physical phenotypes.

His career includes a tenure at the Biotechnology Center (TU Dresden, Germany) in 2013, where he established and managed a new facility, implementing innovative organ-on-chip platforms and microfluidic methods for cell mimicking, analysis, and treatment. Since 2019, he has served as the head of the Lab-on-a-chip Systems Technology Platform at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light (MPL) in Erlangen (Germany). In this role, he focuses on the development of smart materials and microfluidic technologies, primarily within the field of mechanobiology.

Lea Udovč is an award-winning journalist, science editor and head of the video department at the Slovenian press agency (STA). Her journalistic work encompasses interviews and in-depth stories on various topics ranging from medicine, astrophysics, technology, energy, neuroscience, environment, biology to history, geography, gender and sexuality. She has conducted and published several high-profile interviews with some of the most prominent names in science, including Nobel Laureates. Her work has been acknowledged in Slovenia and elsewhere, winning third place in the competition for the European Science Journalist of the Year Award 2023. She was also awarded a National Debutant Award by the Association of Slovenian Journalists and became a nomenee for the European science writer of the year award, both in 2018. Apart from her editorial duties, she passes her knowledge to younger generations as a guest lecturer in science journalism courses.