How do cells sense changes in the mechanics of their immediate environment? This is the central question that Dr Kathryn Poole addresses in her work. When Dr Poole joined Prof Gary Lewin’s lab as a postdoctoral scientist, she started investigating such mechanotransduction in touch receptive nerve cells.
But the ability of cells to sense and respond to mechanical stress is important in many other contexts. For example, the cells within cartilage respond to mechanical stresses to maintain the tissue. Migrating cancer cells may push through tissues and thereby probe their mechanical properties.
The award of a Cecile Vogt Fellowship from the MDC to Dr Poole allowed her to establish an independent research program to extend her studies on mechanotransduction beyond the sensory system. The program allowed her to significantly develop her own ideas, investigating how mechanically gated ion channel function can influence cell migration and hiring doctoral student Martha Rocio Servin Vences to assist her in the investigation of mechanotransduction in the cells in cartilage tissue.
Dr Poole is particularly interested in structures on the molecular level, such as highly sensitive ion channels in the cell membrane, which open on mild applied force. She and Prof Lewin developed a new method that makes it possible to measure cellular responses to the finest deflections of even a few millionths of a millimeter: a substrate consisting of elastic cylinders, more than twenty times narrower than a human hair, on which the cells can grow. These cylinders can be moved individually and precisely, which applies a mechanical stimulus to the attached cells. Dr Poole and her colleagues published this work in a highly regardedin Nature Communications.
Dr Poole is now returning to her home country of Australia. As a senior lecturer at the School of Medical Sciences at UNSW, she will take up a position in the Department of Physiology and be a part of the EMBL Australia Node in Single Molecule Science.
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