Cells respond to chemicals in the external environment in many different ways, one of those responses, migration, or chemotaxis, is vital to the correct functioning of all organisms and understanding how it occurs is very important to carrying out research in to issues of abnormal development and the aetiology of diseases, such as metastatic cancer. In multicellular organisms, directed migration is perhaps most obviously observed in the movement of sperm towards egg and in subsequent phases of development and in the movement of neurones and lymphocytes. Its importance is increasingly recognized as underlying cancer metastasis whereby cancer cells in one tissue migrate to others elsewhere in the body.
The impact of novel technology and materials on this field are highlighted in a special issue of the journal Integrative Biology from the Royal Society of Chemistry [Beebe et al., Integr Biol, (2010) 2, 559; doi: 10.1039/C0IB90017F].
"The integration of technology and biology has matured further here than in many other areas of biological study" explains biomedical engineer David Beebe of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Beebe is one of three founding scientific Associate Editors for the journal and works on microfluidic devices for cancer diagnostics and research: "The papers in this issue highlight advances in technology that allow investigators to address fundamental questions about directed migration that provide insight into basic mechanisms and provide tools for drug discovery and clinical intervention."
The original idea for the special issue arose at the Gordon conference on “Gradient sensing and directed cell migration” in Galveston, Texas in 2009 and has pulled together thirteen disparate papers discussing technology and biology including neutrophil and Dictyostelium chemotaxis, mechanobiology, amoeboid migration and the application of microfluidics to the study of directed cell migration. The special issue also covers research in technology for in vivo studies and improved methods for studying axon guidance, as well as the role of chemotaxis in cancer. Contributions include five review articles, six research papers and two notes on technical innovations.
Beebe and co-editor, physician-scientist Anna Huttenloche also of the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in the immune system and its problems, explain that the special issue highlights research that is pointing science towards new areas in chemotaxis and addressing some fundamental questions about directed migration. The work not only offers new insights into basic mechanisms but could provide tools for drug discovery and clinical intervention.
David Bradley