Denis Tsygankov, assistant professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University, and a researcher in the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, has won a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation.
The CAREER Award is the NSF’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.
Tsygankov’s award, including $504,599 over five years, will focus on developing an integrative methodology enabling the comprehensive study of coordinated cell behavior – a hallmark of organism development and functioning. Collective cell migration is a remarkable example of such cellular coordination and it plays a central role in embryonic development, wound healing, and cancer invasion. However, despite its fundamental importance and significant effort from the scientific community, collective cell migration remains a poorly understood phenomenon.
The critical challenge in revealing the underlying mechanisms of the coordinated cell movement is accounting for multiple mutually affecting processes regulating cellular machinery and the interactions of cells with each other and their local environment. The research community still lacks methodologies that can grasp such complexity at the systems level. The proposed research aims to overcome this challenge using innovative approaches that integrate state-of-the-art imaging technologies with comprehensive simulation models of cellular dynamics bridging between different length and time scales.
In addition to addressing the fundamental question of how the complex interplay of cell responses defines the emergent collective behavior, the project will benefit society by introducing project-related, inclusion-focused undergraduate and graduate courses and a STEM Diversity Internship for underrepresented students from Spelman College and K-12 teachers participating in the Georgia Tech GIFT Program.
“The specific goal of the project is to decipher complex cross-talk mechanisms between the environment-dependent cell signaling and the cytoskeletal machinery via the implementation of a novel, hybrid (agent-based/systems-dynamics) methodology,” said Tsygankov.
His project will explicitly account for the spatiotemporal regulation of actin and adhesion complexes, changes in cell shape, and the formation of mechanical stresses.
Although the proposed project is driven by specific biological hypotheses, the outcome of the effort will be a general, broadly applicable computational methodology for addressing many fundamental questions of cell function in different biological contexts.
Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology