Viola Vogel, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Materials, ETH Zurich Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Switzerland
Despite advances in the fields of bioengineering, materials science, and cell biology, major challenges remain for engineering tissues that can replace functional human organs. Although a few materials have been successful for limited applications, it is perplexing that so many biomaterials with fundamentally different chemistries and surface textures all result in the same biological response: lack of vascularization and encapsulation within collagenous fibrils. The biomaterial scaffolds that are used in tissue engineering are generally meant to provide provisional substitutes for an extracellular matrix, providing a temporary structural support combined with specific biochemical signals that encourage cells to create their own extracellular matrix environment. However, the extracellular matrix is much more than a static mechanical support for tissues. It provides the physical microenvironment of a cell and is responsible for transmitting signals to cell membrane receptors that eventually reach the nucleus via intracellular signaling cascades. Cells are not only affected by molecular composition, but also by the topography and mechanical properties of their surrounding extracellular matrix.
Matrix-directed regulation of cell function, either for applications in tissue engineering or in regenerative medicine, thus requires a major improvement of our understanding how cells interact with their own matrices. Thus, the immediate focus of our research is to elucidate the biology of the cell—extracellular matrix interface. Cells exhibit a dynamic reciprocity with their extracellular environment: cells both organize their extracellular matrix environment and the extracellular matrix in turn provides signals that govern a host of cell functions that include proliferation, differentiation, migration, and apoptosis. Thus, the physical state of the ECM may be critical for transmitting signals to cells that control cell fate. The key questions we are addressing experimentally and computationally are how mechanical forces acting on proteins are converted into biochemical signals via partial protein unraveling (figure 1), and how forces affect cell signaling and ultimately cell behavior.
Background and Education
Viola Voel is a professor in the Department of Materials heading the Laboratory for Biologically Oriented Materials at the ETH Zurich, Switzerland. After completing her graduate research at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, she received her Ph.D. in physics at Frankfurt University, followed by two years as postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. As faculty member, she joined the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Washington in 1990, with an adjunct appointment in physics. She was the founding director of the Center for Nanotechnology at the University of Washington (1997-2003) prior to her move to Switzerland in 2004.
Honors and Awards
Vogel V, Sheetz MP.
Thomas WE, Forero M, Yakovenko O, Nilsson L, Vicini P, Sokurenko E, Vogel V.
Dusseiller MR, Smith ML, Vogel V, Textor M.