Our cells are more like us than we may think. They’re sensitive to their environment, poking and prodding deliberately at their surroundings with hand-like feelers and chemical signals as they decide whether and where to move. Such caution serves us well but has vexed engineers who seek to create synthetic tissue, heart valves, implants and other devices that the human body will accept.
To overcome that obstacle, scientists have sought to learn more about how cells explore what’s around them. While numerous studies have looked at cellular movement in two dimensions and a few recent experiments involved cellular motion in three dimensions, scientists remained unsure just how much cells interacted with their surroundings. Now, a study involving Brown University and the California Institute of Technology has recorded for the first time how cells move in three dimensions by measuring the force exerted by cells on their environs. The research gives scientists their most complete assessment to date about how cells move.