Glen Niebur

Glen Niebur

Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering

University of Notre Dame

 The Notre Dame Tissue mechanics laboratory studies the mechanical properties of skeletal tissues to better understand their fitness for function, and to determine how mechanical stimuli affect cellular response. Two current studies are related to osteonecrosis of the jaw and the role of mechanics in metastatic engraftment of tumor cells in bone marrow.

Bone metastasis: Many cancers metastasize (migrate, attach, and grow) to bone marrow. The phenomenon has been attributed to the marrow providing "fertile soil" for cancer cells to grow in. This disease is problematic, because it is difficult to detect the metastasis inside the bone, where it is difficult to see, even using x-ray or MRI methods. Typically the first detection occurs when the patient experiences pain, or serious degeneration of the bone is detected. Our group and Dr. Laurie Littlepage are developing methods to study metastasis in human bone samples collected from our collaborator Luke Nystrom at Loyola University. We intend to study how mechanical stimuli might affect the ability of the tumor to attach and grow in bone marrow.

Mechanobiology of cancer cell migration: We study the biological effects of mechanical stimuli applied to cells. Cancer cells move at different speeds when growing on or in materials that have different stiffnesses, porosity, or other properties.  However, during normal daily activities, our bodies are subjected to different forces that are supported by our bones, muscles, and other organs. These forces cause cells to be pressed against supporting structures, moved relative to one another, or otherwise deformed, which can affect their biological activity. We do not know  if these mechanical signals affect cancer cell migration when the underlying material or tissue is regularly deformed by loading. We are using various culture systems with 2-D and 3-D environments to study these effects.

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