In April 2012 Warwick Medical School launched the Centre for Mechanochemical Cell Biology (CMCB). Despite the complex-sounding name, the science of mechanochemical cell biology is basic and fundamental: it involves the study of the machinery that organises and moves the cells that make up our bodies. Ultimately, this information is used to provide better healthcare to patients.
A human body is made up of cells. Each cell has a job to do and each cell contains many molecular parts, which are moved around the cell by a kind of railway system, like that which transports freight around a country. In order to function correctly it is vital that the molecular parts of the cell are in the right place at the right time. Mechanochemical cell biology is the study of the machinery that moves these molecular parts around.
Why is this relevant to medicine?
Many diseases are a result of a breakdown of the cell’s railway system. A good example is Alzheimer’s disease. The brain needs continuous transport of signalling chemicals to the tips of nerve cells in order to continue to work properly. When Alzheimer’s is present in the brain, the railway tracks, which are called microtubules, are physically blocked by a protein known as Tau, so the signalling chemicals can’t get through and memory loss and impairment is caused in the brain. Mechanochemical Cell Biology seeks to understand how the microtubule railway system works, aiming to be able to clear the blockages or re-route traffic.
Professor Rob Cross, who heads up the team of scientists at the CMCB, outlined the impact of their research:
Our work is discovery science, aiming to understand how the transport machinery of the cell works and to inform the development of new drug therapies for a range of global health problems that includes malaria, cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and reproductive disease,