Three Case Western Reserve University junior faculty members have received National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grants, totaling nearly $1.7 million.
The five-year grants support research into:
- Movements of nanoparticles through confined spaces, with applications to food source security and water purification;
- The formation and regulation of protein bonds between cells; and
- A deep look into the physics and variables in 3-D printing processes of metal parts.
The research projects also include education, mentorship and outreach to graduate, undergraduate and K-12 students.
Healthy cells have their own version of Chinese finger traps, called catch-bonding. These bonds are formed by protein molecules at the cell surface, and the greater the force pulling them apart, the longer the bond between them lasts.
Assistant Physics Professor Mike Hinczewski, who received a $656,866 award, will develop theories help uncover the structural details of catch-bonding from experimental data.
“The heart of this project is to figure out how catch-bonding occurs in a variety of protein systems in very different biological contexts,” he said. “Can all these systems be described by similar mechanisms?”
Catch bonds have been found in proteins that recruit white blood cells from a rushing blood stream, as well as at the junctions between neighboring cells in tissues, Hinczewski explained. The mechanical forces which naturally occur in these cases, due to the fluid flow or the tension in the tissue, change the protein shape, increasing the bond lifetime.
“Researchers are just beginning to explore in depth how force regulates adhesion between cells and its potential implications for the human immune system and diseases like cancer,” he said.
Hinczewski’s lab will use feedback between theory and data to develop mathematical and structural models, elucidating these counter-intuitive protein finger traps.