Major transformation of extracellular matrix (ECM) composition, architecture and of its mechanical properties accompany inflammatory disease and cancer progression, yet little is known how this affects ECM-imposed outside-in cell signaling. As the ECM acts as reservoir for a plethora of growth factors and cytokines some of which are regulated by changing ECM fiber strain, gaining knowledge on the mechanical strain of ECM protein fibers in health and disease is urgently needed. Nothing is known so far about ECM fiber tension in healthy organs and during pathological transformations due to the previous lack of probes that can sense the tension of ECM fibers. Novel insights will be discussed which we obtained using our recently developed mechanosensitive peptide probes (FnBPA5) which specifically binds to relaxed, but not to stretched fibronectin (Fn) fibers, and how such peptides can be utilized for theranostic applications. Recapitulating tissue growth processes in microtissue platforms gave further insights into mechanisms by which ECM fiber tension might affect the fibroblast to myofibroblast transition.
Professor Viola Vogel studied Physics and Biology in Frankfurt, at the Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and in Berkeley before starting her academic career in the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Washington (1991). In Seattle, she was the Founding Director of the Center for Nanotechnology at the University of Washington (1997-2003). She moved to Switzerland in 2004, where she initially joined the Department of Materials at ETH Zurich. She is now heading the Laboratory of Applied Mechanobiology in the Department of Health Sciences and Technology and is the Founding Director of the new ETH Institute of Translational Medicine (since 2017). She is the Chair of the Department of Health Sciences and Technology since 2018.
Viola Vogel pioneered the rapidly growing field of mechanobiology and its medical applications as she discovered many structural mechanisms how mechanical forces can turn proteins into mechano-chemical switches. Such mechanisms are exploited by bacteria, as well as by mammalian cells and tissues to sense and respond to mechanical forces, and if abnormal, can cause various diseases. Her research was recognized by major awards, including the Otto-Hahn Medal of the Max-Planck Society 1988, the “First Award” from the NIH Institute of General Medicine (1993-98), the Julius Springer Prize 2006 for Applied Physics, the ERC Advanced Grant (2008-13), the International Solvay Chair in Chemistry Brussels 2012, and an Honorary Degree Doctor of Philosophy from Tampere University, Finland 2012. She also serves on various international advisory boards in the fields of nanotechnology and bioengineering, including on the White House panel that finalized the US National Nanotechnology Initiative under the Clinton administration (1999) and on the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council in Nanotechnology (2014-2016), as well as for the Max-Planck Society, A*STAR Singapore and the Wyss Institute, Boston.