Biomechanics Core Facility

The Biomechanics Core works with ITMAT faculty from Penn, ITMAT partner institutions, and members of the ITMAT Program in Translational Biomechanics. We currently offer the following services.

  1. Customized ECM-coated acrylamide hydrogels (continuing core service)
  2. Second harmonic generation 2-photon microscopy (new core service beginning July 1, 2013)
  3. Atomic Force Microscopy (new core service beginning July 1, 2013).

ECM-coated acrylamide hydrogels represent a recent advance in cell culture that allows investigators to model the elastic micro environments that most cell types inhabit in vivo. A growing literature indicates that cellular responses are strongly influenced by the stiffness of the underlying substratum. By culturing cells on ECM-coated hydrogels, investigators can minimize the chance of obtaining the false-negative and false-positive results that may occur when cells are cultured on biologically irrelevant plastic or glass surfaces. Cells cultured on hydrogel substrata are amenable to almost all modern cell and molecular analyses. Continuous cell lines and primary cells are readily accommodated. The elasticity of these substrata can be varied to model changes in microenvironment stiffness that might occur with development, differentiation, or disease.

Second harmonic generation (SHG) microscopy is a technique for visualizing structured fibrillar collagen. This information complements traditional immunofluorescence analysis of collagen abundance because the mechanical properties of fibrillar collagen is strongly dependent on its structure. SHG microscopy is commonly performed on fixed cells or tissue sections.

Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) is a technique the Core offers to measure cell or tissue stiffness. Increased tissues stiffness is a hallmarks of fibrosis-associated diseases, and recent data suggests that increased stiffness can be causal for disease progression. AFM performed on freshly isolated tissues can be used to determine how various stimuli or disease affects microenvironmental stiffness. Additionally, this information can then be applied to the generation of hydrogels. In this manner, in vitro mechanistic analyses can be performed under conditions that model the known elasticity of in vivo experimental systems. AFM performed on live cells can be used to monitor changes in intracellular stiffness most commonly associated with regulators of Rho GTPases.

Consultation and initial pilot experiments performed with the Biomechanics Core are free-of-charge to ITMAT faculty from Penn, ITMAT partner institutions, and members of the ITMAT Program in Translational Biomechanics.

Contact Information

Richard K. Assoian, PhD, Director
assoian@mail.med.upenn.edu

Paola Castagnino, PhD, Technical Director
pcastagn@mail.med.upenn.edu