The human body contains over 10 trillion cells spanning hundreds of morphologically distinct cell types. These cells must work together for our bodies to function correctly. However, it remains a mystery how such an enormous diversity of cells coordinate their behaviors.
Tissue structure - or the composition and physical arrangement of cells, extracellular matrix, and diffusible molecules - helps to coordinate cellular behaviors by organizing the flow of chemical, mechanical, and electrical information between cells. Thus, building tissue structure correctly and maintaining tissue structure over time are prerequisites for engineering functional organs and stopping the progression of diseases like cancer.
We are interested in three general questions about how tissue structure forms and functions:
(i) How does tissue structure form through the process of self-organization?
(ii) How does tissue structure help cells to arrive at collective decisions and to organize collective behaviors?
(iii) How does tissue structure breakdown during the progression of diseases like cancer?
To answer these questions we take a synthetic approach, building human tissues from the bottom-up. This approach allows us to measure and perturb the molecular and physical properties of individual cells, reconstitute them into living tissue, then observe their interactions to reveal the underlying "rules" guiding their collective behaviors. We focus primarily on the cells and tissues of the human breast, and our work incorporates experimental principles from the chemical, biological, and engineering sciences.