Michael L. Smith Ph.D.
The form and function of cells and tissues is regulated by various properties of their local microenvironment such as rigidity and cell shape. In vivo, these properties are defined by the extracellular matrix (ECM) and adjacent cells. The ECM is more than a passive mechanical element in this process since it presents an array of binding sites for cells and cell signaling molecules. Dr. Smith’s laboratory focuses on quantifying the relationship between environmental cues and ECM production, elucidating the mechanisms by which fibronectin (Fn) tension and unfolding alters its cell signaling capacity, and engineering culture environments to control the form and function of the ECM. Understanding how micro environmental properties regulate cell fate should increase the clinical efficacy of tissue engineering scaffolds that depend upon biochemical and physical cues. Engineered cell culture platforms might permit long-term maintenance of cell phenotype in vitro, thus permitting diagnostic research in the laboratory that might otherwise require animal experimentation.