We design computer simulations to untangle how cells coordinate, compete and change shape to grow well-adapted tissue structures during development – and abnormal structures in disease.
We must adapt to survive. Just like us, cells continually sense their local environment and adapt their behaviour accordingly, either as individuals or as a group. They communicate and ‘decide’ whether to cooperate or compete with each other and they can dramatically change their shape or arrangement.
Understanding how this complex dance unfolds across time and space, from molecules, cells to tissues is hard for our brains alone to grasp, so we use computer simulations integrated with experiments to predict how changes at any level, from a genetic mutation to a tissue disruption like a wound, will impact the choreography as a whole.
Simulations are much easier to deconstruct than living organisms, yet have curious properties such as emergent behaviours we did not expect or deliberately program in that can point our research in new directions.
We use simulations to explore how cells choose their behaviour at a given moment in time, and how their local environment and neighbouring cells influence them to either help the tissue (adaptive behaviour) or help a pathogen/disease condition persist (maladapted behaviour).
We then work closely with our many experimental collaborators and in our wetlab (primarily combining cell micropatterning, tissue explants and advanced microscopy methods) to experimentally test our simulation predictions. Altogether leading to new mechanistic discoveries underlying cell behaviour with the aim to potentiate new therapeutic strategies.