Travel Grant: Ruben Boot (Philadelphia)

I am a 2nd year Master student at Eindhoven University of Technology, where I study Applied Physics. A travel grant from the Netherlands’ Society for Biophysics and Biomedical Engineering helped me to visit UPenn, University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia for an external research project of three months.

Besides learning about cell culture and biochemistry techniques, I had been working at Dennis Discher’s lab on micropipette aspiration of U2OS osteosarcoma and A549 lung cancer cells. Dennis’ lab is the lead lab in a new Cancer Physics Center supported generously by a competitive 5-year award from the National Cancer Institute, and they do a lot of research about all kind of processes that are involved with cancer. Their research has shown that the stiffer tumor tissue is, the higher the mutation rate. They hypothesize that as a cell moves through small pores in for example the ECM, the nucleus can rupture leading to DNA damage and possibly mutations. Therefore it is also highly interesting to find out more about the mechanical properties of chromatin and when it might break, leading to my invitation to  determine the mechanical properties of the chromatin in the U2OS and A549 cells by conducting micropipette aspiration of the cells and determining the creep compliance and Young’s modulus of the chromatin. I did this for both interphase cells and mitotic cells, to compare the possible difference between the mechanics during these two cell phases. Data showed that mitotic chromatin was more compliant than interphase nuclei.

In the three months, I did not only work on my research project, but got a taste of what working in an American research group is and how the American culture feels like. I was surprised by how much I have learned in the end, not only study-related but also about America, other cultures and how broad and wide the world still is. These is always more to learn and discover. I would like to thank the VvB-BMT for making this adventure and enriching experience possible.