Tech Talk – Plastic Response of Cells: from Embryo Development to Disease Detection

All members of the HKU community and the general public are welcome to join!
Speaker: Dr. Yuan Lin, Associate Professor of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, HKU
Date: 5th May 2022 (Thursday)

Time: 4:30pm
About the Tech Talk
Speaker: Dr. Yuan Lin, Associate Professor of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, HKU
Mode: Mixed (both face-to-face and online). Seats for on-site participants are limited. A confirmation email will be sent to participants who have successfully registered.
Moderator: Professor Kevin Tsia, Professor, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, HKU
Date: 5th May 2022 (Thursday)
Time: 4:30pm
Venue: Inno Wing Two / Zoom
Language: English
Living cells need to undergo significant shape changes during processes such as cell division, migration and tissue formation. Therefore, it is commonly believed that the deformability of cells is intimately related to their capability in executing different biological duties as well as the progression of diseases. In this talk, Dr Yuan Lin will discuss how irreversible deformation of cells ensures proper axial extension of embryos during their development and how the plastic response of tumor cells can be used in monitoring the progression of cancer. Specifically, he will show that the presence of active intracellular/intercellular contraction will trigger the severing and re-bundling of actin filaments in cells (leading to cellular anisotropy and plasticity), elevate the internal hydrostatic pressure of embryo and eventually drive its elongation. In particular, the gradual re-alignment of F-actins must be synchronized with the development of intracellular forces for the embryo to elongate, which is then further sustained by muscle contraction-triggered plastic deformation of cells. In addition, he will also introduce a microfluidic setup developed in his lab allowing them to impose precisely controlled cyclic deformation on cells and therefore probe their plastic characteristics. Interestingly, they found that significant plastic strain can accumulate rapidly in highly invasive cancer cell lines and circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from late-stage lung cancer patients with a characteristic time of a few seconds. In comparison, very little irreversible deformation was observed in the less invasive cell lines and CTCs from early-stage lung cancer patients, highlighting the potential of using the plastic response of cells as a novel marker in future cancer prognosis and monitoring.
Recording of the Tech Talk
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  • The tech talk “Plastic Response of Cells: from Embryo Development to Disease Detection” will be organized in the Tam Wing Fan Innovation Wing Two (G/F, Run Run Shaw Building, HKU) on 5th May 2022 (Thursday), 4:30 pm.
  • Seats are limited. Zoom broadcast is available if the seating quota is full. 
  • Registrants on the waiting list will be notified of the arrangement after the registration deadline (with seating/free-standing/other arrangement)
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About the speaker

Dr. Yuan Lin

Dr. Yuan Lin received the BS and MS degrees in Engineering Mechanics from Tsinghua University. After that, he obtained a MS degree in Applied Mathematics from Brown University, followed by a Ph.D. degree in Solid Mechanics. Dr. Lin’s research interests include cellular and molecular biomechanics, tissue development and morphogenesis, and mechanics of biological materials. His works have been published in places like Science Advances, PNAS and PRL, as well as being selected as journal cover and highlighted articles by Advanced Healthcare Materials, Biophysical Journal and Soft Matter.
Project images
Figure 1. Schematic diagrams of C. elegans embryo elongation. (A) Cartoons showing two stages of elongation driven by seam cell and muscle contractions. (B) Illustration of the microstructure of the embryo wall (treated as a thin-walled cylinder). Contraction generated in seam cells causes the shrinking of the embryo wall in the circumferential direction and eventually drives its axial elongation. Such elongation is further sustained by contraction of body-wall muscles in the second stage. (C) Illustration of the model where the development of cellular anisotropy and plasticity were caused by the force-induced alignment and severing/re-bundling of actin filaments, respectively.
Figure 2. A novel system capable of imposing precisely controlled cyclic deformation on cells and therefore probing their plastic characteristics was developed. We showed significant plastic strain can accumulate in highly invasive cancer cell lines and circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from late-stage lung cancer patients whereas almost no irreversible deformation was observed in the non-metastatic cell lines or early-stage CTCs.
About the project

Physical understanding of abnormal embryo development

Abnormal embryonic development leads to severe birth defects and diseases such as dysmelia. Recent studies have shown that the embryo of Caenorhabditis elegans, a model organism, undergoes abnormal elongation when cellular anisotropy and plasticity cannot be developed and maintained properly. However, the underlying mechanisms remain unclear.

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