Pulling Apart at the Seams: The Role of Cell Contractility in Atherosclerosis and Metastasis

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Thursday, November 14, 2013 - 4:30pm

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To adhere and migrate, cells exert traction stresses against their extracellular matrix.  In addition to aiding cell movements and helping to maintain cell shape, cellular traction stresses also contribute to the ability of cells to probe and remodel their environment.  In this talk, I will discuss my lab’s work investigating the role of cellular traction stresses in mediating cell health.  Using in vitro and ex vivo models, we have shown that changes in cell contractility occur during the progression of two deadly diseases: atherosclerosis and cancer.  Altered cellular mechanical forces can lead to changes cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions that contribute to disorganized tissue structures, a hallmark of both cancer and atherosclerosis. Our data reveal that changes in cell contractility are linked to both atherosclerosis progression and metastasis, and that therapeutically targeting changes in cellular contractility may be one potential pathway to preventing disease progression.


Cynthia Reinhart-King is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University.  She obtained undergraduate degrees in Chemical Engineering and Biology at MIT and a PhD in Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania as a Whitaker Fellow followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of Rochester.  Dr. Reinhart-King’s current research interests are in the areas of cell mechanics and cell migration specifically in the context of cancer and atherosclerosis.  Her lab uses a multidisciplinary approach, drawing from cell and molecular biology, biophysics, and biomechanics to quantitatively examine the mechanisms of tissue formation and disease progression. Her lab has received funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the American Heart Association, and the American Federation of Aging Research.  She was received numerous awards for her work, including the Biomedical Engineering Society’s Rita Schaffer Young Investigator Award and an NSF CAREER Award. She has also received the 2010 Sonny Yau ‘72 Excellence in Teaching Award, the highest award for teaching in Cornell’s College of Engineering, and the 2013 Cooke Award, given to individuals for their commitment to women's issues and contributions for changing the climate for women at Cornell.