Rockefeller Scientist Probes Dynamic Forces That Move 37 Trillion Cells in Human Body

Gregory M. Alushin, PhD, Head of Rockefeller’s Laboratory of Structural Biophysics and Mechanobiology, doesn’t think about his career in science as a predestined calling as much as the result of accumulated experiences. “It makes a good story to say that you’re very intentional,” he says, “but I think there are a lot of circumstances that determine our path.” The same can be said about the approximately 37 trillion cells that make up the human body. Each has its own identity and function, shaped in part by the external forces it encountered throughout its life—including mechanical forces, like the incessant push-and-pull from neighboring cells. Dr. Alushin studies how these little-understood physical dynamics act on the cell’s cytoskeleton, an internal network of protein filaments that constantly reconfigures itself to help the cell move, change shape, or ferry molecules from one cell compartment to another. Beyond revealing fundamental truths about this molecular machinery, Dr. Alushin’s work has implications for understanding how organisms grow and develop, and how the biomechanical dynamics that some cancers use to metastasize from one organ to another could be used against them.

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