Published: March 23, 2018 By

When it comes to the healing process of wounds, there is a important lack of understanding about how cells collectively migrate to the site of an injury. David Bortz and Vanja Dukic in Applied Math and Xuedong Liu in Biochemsitry and their postdoc and graduate students set out on a mission to learn more about this fundamental biological process. In support of this endeavor, they were recently awarded a $1,510,000 grant. This four year grant comes from a joint program between the NSF Division of Mathematical Sciences and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (a part of the NIH).

“The overall goal of this project is to use model selection to choose the mechanistic spatial models which best describe cell migration/wound healing experiments,” said Bortz. The broader applications of their research includes potential for medical advancement around chronic wounds and even possibly new techniques for tissue engineering. One of the main obstacles to developing effective models of cell migration is that there are a large number of possible biological explanations. Accordingly, along with the biological investigation, this grant is also funding research into developing a methodology for selecting the best spatial (i.e., partial differential equation-based) model for cell migration. The principle is that the biology encoded by the best model is most likely to describe the actual biological mechanism.

By the end of the project, 4 years down the line, the team hopes to both learn more about what causes wounds to heal and have a robust mathematical approach for selecting accurate spatial models.

Professors Bortz and Dukic are both faculty in the Department ofApplied Mathematics, while Professor Liu is a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Bortz is a mathematical biologist and the principal investigator on this grant, Liu is a biochemist, and Dukic is a computational statistician. “I originally met Xuedong Liu at a BioFrontiers task force meeting in 2013 and we started talking about a possible collaboration.” said Bortz. “It took us a while to figure out a question to ask which mathematical modeling could help answer, but once we did, it led to mentoring a grad student (John Nardini), a publication, and this grant.” Bortz and Dukic will be developing the models and selection methodology and Liu will be designing and carrying out the validating experiments.

Lastly, the project also provides a training opportunity for the postdoc (Doug Chapnick) and the graduate students (John Nardini & Lewis Baker) supported by this funding