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August 15, 2022

Notbohm earns NSF grant for collective cell migration research

Jacob Notbohm
Jacob Notbohm

The National Science Foundation has awarded Jacob Notbohm, Harvey D. Spangler Assistant Professor in engineering physics at UW-Madison, a grant to study the causes and effects of friction in how biological cells move in collective groups, which is an essential process in cancer invasion, tissue development and wound healing.

Biomedical Engineering Professor Pamela Kreeger is co-principal investigator on the grant, which totals $460,000.

The cells’ motion results from cell-generated forces, but how the forces balance to create motion is not clear. This gap in knowledge hinders researchers’ efforts to control collective cell migration for applications in improving human health.

Pamela Kreeger
Pamela Kreeger

Notbohm says the current scientific understanding is that there must exist a friction force that balances the forces produced by each cell. However, there is no established method to measure the friction force and, as a result, the precise relationship between cell-generated forces and collective motion remains unknown.

To fill in this gap, the researchers will design experimental methods to measure friction and identify the biophysical factors controlling friction. For this project, the team will also study how friction affects the distance over which cell-generated forces are transmitted across a collectively migrating group of cells.

Notbohm says findings from this research will offer a new means to predict how cell forces bring about the collective migration, which is the first step to controlling the migration for applications in human health.