At Stanford, tiny answers to biology’s biggest questions

As Stanford interdisciplinary scientists find new ways to push, pull and sometimes simply jiggle cells and even individual molecules, they’re also discovering microscopic answers to some of the biggest questions in biology and health.

Some of the biggest questions in biology – how cancer spreads or why we’re shaped the way we are – could have tiny answers, hidden in minuscule forces acting on microscopic structures inside the bodies of living things. Cancer cells harden and fight their way out of the membranes that imprison them. Layers in the brain bend to relieve stress as they grow. And molecules inside our cells grip more tightly with one end than the other – a difference that could give not just those cells but our entire bodies structure and shape.

With new ways to measure and manipulate those forces, Stanford interdisciplinary scientists are now learning their outsized influence on how our bodies function. Their discoveries could one day lead to better treatments for disease, better devices to protect our brains and perhaps ways to rebuild tissues and organs lost to injury and disease.

mechanobiology

Probing how we hear

To study hearing, engineers built “force probes” capable of manipulating single nerve cells with minute forces. Read more.

The brain (un)folds

The tools researchers once used to study concrete are now answering questions about brain development and disease. Read more.

A healthy heart

To grow healthy heart cells from stem cells in a lab, researchers needed to add a little bit of tension. Read more.

Breast cancer

 Studying cancer cells’ mechanical properties could solve the mystery of why some breast cancers are more likely to spread. Read more.

Seeing forces

Glowing nanoparticles could illuminate the processes underlying wound healing, cancer and more. Read more.

Growing a gut

Micro-balloons designed by Stanford researchers could reveal how the small intestine adapts to how much animals eat. Read more.

The origin of form

A protein’s mechanical properties may help explain how living things develop complex physical structure. Read more.

Straining nerves

Nerve cells go through the mechanical wringer every day. They survive with help from cellular elastic. Read more.

mechanobiology-mobile

Probing how we hear

To study hearing, engineers built “force probes” capable of manipulating single nerve cells with minute forces. Read more.

The brain (un)folds

The tools researchers once used to study concrete are now answering questions about brain development and disease. Read more.

Breast cancer

 Studying cancer cells’ mechanical properties could solve the mystery of why some breast cancers are more likely to spread. Read more.

A healthy heart

To grow healthy heart cells from stem cells in a lab, researchers needed to add a little bit of tension. Read more.

Seeing forces

Glowing nanoparticles could illuminate the processes underlying wound healing, cancer and more. Read more.

Growing a gut

Micro-balloons designed by Stanford researchers could reveal how the small intestine adapts to how much animals eat. Read more.

The origin of form

A protein’s mechanical properties may help explain how living things develop complex physical structure. Read more.

Straining nerves

Nerve cells go through the mechanical wringer every day. They survive with help from cellular elastic. Read more.

Image credit: Alisha Ober