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Susan Cox

Dr Susan Cox

Research Fellow

Organisation

King's College London

Research summary

The shapes of the cells within your body are determined by relatively rigid networks of fibres inside each cell. This network (the cytoskeleton) forms many different structures to allow the cell to migrate or attach to a surface, and malfunction of these structures is linked to cancer metastasis and other conditions. The cytoskeleton also controls how a cell changes shape when it is squashed or stretched (its mechanical properties). I want to understand how the structure of the cytoskeleton gives rise to the mechanical properties. Changes in the mechanical properties can occur when a cell changes its behaviour, e.g. when a cell becomes cancerous. Monitoring the mechanical properties of cells could potentially be used in cancer diagnosis.

The first challenge is to improve our ability to image the cytoskeleton. I use fluorescence imaging, in which the parts of the cell which interest us are dyed with a chemical which can glow. When the cell is illuminated, the chemical glows a different colour. An image is created using the glow light. However, the traditional form of this technique is unable to see very fine details, because the physics of the imaging process blurs the image. Recently, a number of ways to form images with less blur have been proposed. I am developing a new method of extracting information from images which allows better images to be formed in live cells. This has allowed me to create videos of how structures in cells change over time, at high resolution.

I am using this imaging technique to simultaneously manipulate cells and observe the cytoskeletal structure in very fine detail. The changes in the cytoskeletal structure when a force is applied to the cell will allow me to understand better where changes in the mechanical properties of the cell come from. The end goal is a much better understanding of what gives rise to the mechanical properties of a cell and from there to finding new ways to use this knowledge to combat disease.

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Force and structure in the cytoskeleton

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Dates: Oct 2016 - Sep 2019

Value: £296,557.01

The cytoskeleton at the nanoscale: dynamics and mechanical properties

Scheme: University Research Fellowship

Dates: Oct 2011 - Sep 2016

Value: £536,197.12

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