Case study: Dr Sarah Woolner

Sir Henry Dale Fellow
Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research, University of Manchester
Mitotic spindle orientation and the mechanical tissue environment

Dr Sarah Woolner’s research is focused on understanding what determines the orientation of a cell’s mitotic spindle during cell division. The tissues of our bodies are extremely complex at the cellular level with different types of cells arranged with precise geometry. Within this complex system, cells divide to reproduce themselves and the direction in which they divide is a crucial tool used to shape and organise tissues. Defective cell division orientation can have lethal consequences: causing failures in embryonic development and being associated with cancer. It is the mitotic spindle that determines the direction of cell division, however, it is not fully understood what determines the orientation of the mitotic spindle.

Dr Woolner has hypothesized that “mechanical forces which act on cells, for example stretching forces exerted by other cells or by their environment, can direct the orientation of the mitotic spindle”. These forces act as cues that mitotic spindles “read” to orient their divisions accordingly. The Woolner Group is carrying out a series of experiments to test this idea in the living embryo to “discover the molecular nuts and bolts that allow the mitotic spindle to read the cues that orient it”.

“The Sir Henry Dale Fellowship has given me the level of support I need to undertake the ambitious and time-intensive experiments required for my research.  The flexible working policy of the fellowship has also allowed me to return to work part-time following the birth of my first child – it is important to me that I am able to balance being a mum with being a scientist”.