MechE's Yaling Liu studying blood cell interactions and functionalized leukocytes for killing cancer cells.

Lehigh professor Yaling Liumechanical engineering and mechanicsis interested in fighting cancer. The NSF has recently continued its support of his work though a project entitled Multiscale Modeling and Experimental Study of Blood Cell Interactions with Application to Functionalized Leukocytes Killing Cancer Cells.

More than 90% of cancer-related deaths are caused by metastasis, the spread of a cancer. In many cases, cancer cells escape from the primary tumor and enter vasculature to form circulating tumor cells (CTCs). CTCs inside blood vessels are able to adhere to vessel walls, and then migrate into tissues, eventually forming micro-metastases.

Recently, it was found that when nanoparticles coated with certain types of ligands and receptors on their surfaces can be injected into the blood stream and bind to CTCs that subsequently trigger death of CTCs in the blood.

By combining modeling, simulation and experiments, Yaling's research addresses a key biological question of importance to understanding cancer metastasis: What are the key factors that contribute to improving the efficiency of coated nanoparticles for triggering the death of circulating cancer cells within the vascular system?

New three-dimensional multi-scale models will be developed for the current project. In this context, a novel sub-model representing cell membrane mechanics, a fluid-structure interaction simulation method and a stochastic ligand-receptor bond bind/unbinding sub-model will be developed and coupled. Atomic force microscopy and micro-fluidic experiments at three spatial scales will be designed for model validation and verifying simulation predictions. The transformative strategy of coupling calibrated multi-scale simulations with experiments will enable testing of novel hypothesized mechanisms by which certain coatings of liposomes kill flowing tumor cells.