Confined Collective Migration of Breast Cancer Cells of Different Clinical Subtypes (Mechanical Engineering, Math, Biology, and Art)

Project Description

Cells utilize different mechanisms to migrate based on the microenvironments the cells reside in: on two-dimensional surfaces, cell migration is mostly driven by actin polymerization; in confined spaces, it can be driven by water permeation, which comes from polarized distribution of membrane ion channels and directional ion fluxes across the cell. Tumor cells typically reside in compact microenvironments where the interstitial fluid has elevated hydrostatic pressure. This high pressure provides an ideal environment for cell migration driven by water permeation. Breast cancer is in particular known for its diverse clinical classifications, expressing different levels of membrane proteins including ion channels and gap junctions. This diversity allows elevated directional ion fluxes in certain breast cancer subtypes and enhances cell migration, leading to aggressive cancer phenotype, poor prognosis, and high tendency to metastasis. Collective cell migration, where a cluster of cells be in contact and migrate together in a coordinated fashion, is among the first steps of cancer cell metastasis. This leads to a critically-needed study on how collective breast cancer migration of different subtypes via water permeation is affected by directional fluxes of ions and small molecules through gap junctions that connect adjacent cells.

We will study collective migration of breast cells with both mathematical and experimental approaches, along with a component of artwork, and have openings for undergraduate researchers. Students will be co-advised by the faculty team in this project and receive dedicated training through weekly meetings and discussion. They will learn the fundamentals of cell biology, physiology and pathology, physics of cancers, the important techniques in mathematical modeling, numerical implementation, scientific computation, cellular experiments, and/or sequential art creation. In addition, the students will receive professional training in academic presentation both in written and in oral forms. They will attend Biophysical Society Annual Meetings where they will network with leading scientists in the field. The students are also anticipated to participate in manuscript preparation by organizing their methods and results into written form.

Project Departments

Department of Mechanical Engineering
Department of Mathematics
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
School of Art and Design

Researcher Requirements

We have openings for undergraduate students for this long-term project. We are looking for dedicated students with strong interest in research and academia and are willing to take challenges in their work. We are not looking for someone who just want one more line on the resume or more credit to graduate. The requirements for each opening are listed below. Even though each position has its own responsibility, we as a team work together in a collaborative manner. If you are interested in any of these positions, please send your CV, research interest, and contact information of two professional references to faculty members listed in this project.

Position #1: Mathematical Modeling of Collective Cell Migration
Description: Develop mathematical models for collective cell migration and running programs in MATLAB.

Position #2: Cell Biology Experiments
Description: culture cells, immunology, cell imaging

Position #3: Artwork and sequential image creation
Description: Create still images based on given scripts to produce comics books on cell migration. Have taken or have been enrolled in "Advanced Sequential Art" by the time the project starts.

Project Duration

This project is continuous.


Dr. Yizeng Li,, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Dr. Glenn Young,, Department of Mathematics
Dr. Eric Albrecht,, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
Prof. Craig Brasco,, School of Art and Design