The National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health has awarded a five year, $5.5 million Program Project Grant to a UCSD consortium to study chemotaxis--the directed movement of cells up a chemical gradient--in the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. Chemotaxis is a key component in a multitude of biological processes, including neuronal patterning, wound healing, embryogenesis and angiogenesis--the formation of blood vessels.
The overall aim of the project is to quantitatively study three distinct and sequential stages of chemotaxis using an approach that integrates novel experiments and mathematical modeling. These stages include the initial directional sensing process during which several key signaling components localize subcellularly, cell polarity which leads to clearly distinguishable fronts, backs and sides of a cell and motility which includes actual cell movement.
Experiments performed as part of the project will rely heavily on the use of microfluidic devices, which consist of tiny canals on a microchip. Microfluidic devices will provide precise control over the chemoattractant stimulus--the chemicals that attract cells. The goal of the research is to better understand chemotaxis of eukaryotic cells. Advances in this field will benefit diagnosis and treatment of medical problems involving cell migration.
The consortium consists of two theoretical physicists (Wouter-Jan Rappel, the PI of the grant, and Herbert Levine), two biologists (Richard A. Firtel and William F. Loomis) and Alex Groisman, a microfluidics expert in the physics department.
The grant also includes a subcontract to a microfluidics group at Cornell University (Carl Franck and Eberhard Bodenschatz).