Kristen Billiar receives $400k grant from the National Science Foundation


Biomedical Engineering

Building on 15 years of research in this area, Billiar, with this new NSF award, will deepen our understanding of the way groups of cells mechanically pull on each other. These collective cell forces regulate important biological functions (in particular, programmed cell death) that have implications in heart valve disease, wound healing, and cancer metastasis.

Grant Title: “Mechanical Regulation of Cell Death”

Kristen BilliarPrincipal Investigator: Kristen Billiar, Professor and Head, Department of Biomedical Engineering

Funding Amount: $446,563 for 1 Year

Award Date: May 16, 2018

Sponsor: National Science Foundation (NSF)


This research is focused on systematically investigating the role of cell stresses generated collectively by groups of cells in the regulation of apoptosis (programed cell death). Experiments will span multiple scales from multicellular systems to molecular signaling. Billiar’s approach combines experimental and computational models that inform each other to obtain accurate maps of the mechanics of multicellular systems of precisely patterned shape and size. The computational biomechanical model is the first to include heterogeneous properties based on measured cell properties within a multicellular system. The research team will modulate and measure the forces generated by cells and examine the role of actin organization and mechano-transduction pathways, which control organ size and shape through the regulation of cell proliferation and apoptosis. This work will provide key insights into the importance of mechanical forces in the growth, healing, and disease of biological tissues. The research team includes Qi Wen, associate professor of physics; Nima Rahbar, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; and Dannel McCollum, professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.