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Thuan Beng SAW, Ph.D.
Laboratory of Electromechanobiology
“The cell has to follow the laws of Newton, even if it does not know about them ” – Paluch, E.K. (2015) Trends in cell biology
Thuan Beng lived in Penang, Malaysia during his teenage years and obtained a BSc/Master’s double degree in 2013 from the physics department, National University of Singapore (NUS) and Ecole Polytechnique, France. He did undergraduate research in quantum information and bioengineering problems related to atherosclerosis. He continued with a PhD at the Mechanobiology Institute (MBI, NUS) in 2013, and during this time, discovered that topological defects in the cell alignment field induces cell death. This discovery earned him the best thesis award at NUS. Similar (active) liquid crystalline organizing principles have since been found in mouse hepatocyte organization, bacteria biofilm formation, hydra morphogenesis and other systems. Thuan Beng received a Lee Kuan Yew Postdoctoral fellowship in 2018 and is studying the combined roles of bioelectric potentials and mechanobiology in governing tissue homeostasis. He will continue this line of research at Westlake University early 2022 as a Principal Investigator, looking to collaborate closely and learn from his students/colleagues.
The Electromechanobiology lab works at the interface of Active Soft Matter, Mechanobiology and Bioelectricity. On the one hand, Mechanobiology studies mechanical/biochemical pathways governing cell behavior such as stem cell fate as a function of substrate stiffness and geometry. On the other hand, Active Soft Matter studies the dynamics/physics of systems that consume energy at the local level, including cells. Thuan Beng’s previous works elucidating the relation between tissue mechanical/material properties and cellular events, such as migration/division/apoptosis/extrusion, are examples of fruitful research at these interfaces [1 – 5].
The third part of this trilogy, Bioelectricity, is arguably best known in action potential transmission in neurons/heart cells, but also plays important roles in non-excitable tissues such as during limb regeneration/wound healing. Despite having clear effects, the mechanisms of bioelectricity in development/tissue homeostasis are poorly understood/not known. Thuan Beng’s recent work showed that the natural Transepithelial Potential Difference (TEPD) is important in governing epithelial homeostasis through electromechanical stress using microfluidic systems . By reinforcing/perturbing the natural TEPD, cell fate (apoptosis/differentiation), junctional actin and tissue structure were shown to tightly couple with the TEPD. Multiple observations were understood by a phenomenological theory considering electroosmotic flows through the tissue.
This pioneering work sets the stage to investigate the mechanisms of Electromechanobiology in tissue homeostasis, with implications for health/disease states and novel applications for tissue engineering. The lab is interested in the directions below (and other related directions):
(A) Investigating molecular mechanisms of cell-electric flux coupling.
(B) Studying relation between stem cell fate and electromechanical parameters.
(D) Investigating the role of electrical fluxes in organs such as intestine.
With collaborators, interdisciplinary tools such as molecular/cell biology techniques, advanced microscopy/image analysis, microfluidic/microfabricated systems, biomechanical/electrical parameter measurements, and physical theories will be used to dissect the problems from different angles, in in vitro/ex vivo/in vivo systems.
*equal contributions, #corresponding authors
1. Saw, T.B. *, Doostmohammadi, A. *, …, Ladoux, B., Topological defects in epithelia govern cell death and extrusion. Nature, 544(7649), pp.212-216.
2. Kocgozlu, L. *, Saw, T.B. *, …, Ladoux, B., Epithelial cell packing induces distinct modes of cell extrusions. Current Biology, 26(21), pp.2942-2950.
3. Xi, W. *, Sonam, S. *, Saw, T.B. *, Ladoux, B. and Lim, C.T., Emergent patterns of collective cell migration under tubular confinement. Nature communications, 8(1), pp.1-15.
4. Xi, W. *, Saw, T.B. *, Delacour, D., Lim, C.T. and Ladoux, B., Material approaches to active tissue mechanics. Nature Reviews Materials, 4(1), pp.23-44.
5. Saw, T.B. *, Xi, W. *, Ladoux, B. and Lim, C.T., Biological tissues as active nematic liquid crystals. Advanced materials, 30(47), p.1802579.
6. Saw, T.B.*,#, Gao, X.M.*, …, Prost, J.#, Lim, C.T.# Transepithelial Potential Difference governs epithelial homeostasis through electromechanics. Preprint DOI, 10.21203/rs.3.rs-727744/v1.
We welcome motivated, open-minded, collaborative individuals with solid scientific training in relevant fields to join us on our exciting journey !