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Portada del libro  “Manifiesto por la Ciencia” (Catalonia, 2016)

New questions for cell biology


  
Isidora Sesnic

Report: Isidora Sesnic

9, April 2018

Pablo Astudillo, PhD in Biological Sciences at the P. Universidad Católica de Chilesays that "the idea of training scientists is that they are capable of developing truly independent research lines once they finish their formative stage". This is precisely what he aims to do at the Biomedical Science Institute (ICBM) at Universidad Autónoma de Chile (UA)where he started to work since March 2018.


After a postdoctoral position at the 
Wellcome Trust Centerat the University of Manchester, an institution dedicated mainly to research in cell biology through the study of interactions between cells and their extracellular matrices, Astudillo was awarded with a the Chilean Project of Installation at the Academy (CONICYT-PAI). In this project he will continue studying how the mechanical properties of the environment that surround cells influence their behavior.


entrevista-4_imagen-1-Pablo-Astudillo

Dr. Pablo Astudillo-Besnier.

Pablo, since at UA there are no more people working on the topics that you are investigating, how will  insert your-self in this scenario?

Undoubtedly, it will be a challenge but I believe that, nowadays, having a research center in Biomedical Sciences involves starting to address questions of cellular biology as well. And in this context, rather than a challenge, it is a great opportunity in the a sense of incorporating young people who can answer questions that have more to do with the biocellular field but, obviously, with a focus related to biomedicine or medical science in general.

Specifically, what line of research will you set up at the University?

First, it is good to contextualize. In my PhD thesis I showed how two proteins involved in the interaction of cells and their extracellular matrix regulate their signaling.

Nowadays, we are learning that the mechanical properties of the environment in which cells live are very important to determine their cellular function. So my main interest is trying to understand how the mechanical properties of extracellular matrix regulate a specific signaling path, the Wnt signaling pathway. This pathway has been quite studied in cancer but there are still many areas to be explored. This pathway has two large branches and for one of them, the classically called non-canonical Wnt pathway, is still unknown what are its specific functions in cancer.

In fact, there are very few studies that have tried to determine how this signaling pathway develops in a changing mechanical context. This is means that many times what we scientists do is going from the cell culture directly to pre-clinical studies and we skip a previous stage in which we need to understand this changing mechanical context.

[SPANISH] “Cell signaling, to describe it in a very general way, is to understand how different proteins inside cells interpret signals they receive and transform them into some kind of biological action. In that context, I wanted to go further and get involved in the topic of how the properties of the environment it-self regulate signaling

In this field of mechanical properties, what have you been able to discover? 

In this particular line of research within cell biology, the big question that is emerging is whether, in conditions that are closer to the real ones, we observe the same phenomena that we had been observing in more traditional cell cultures. And we are realizing that, indeed it is not like this. There are cells that behave in a certain way under a certain elasticity, but under a slightly higher elasticity they behave differently. This is very important to understand for example what is the effect of a certain drug when you use it for an in vivo treatment.

[SPANISH] "And we are realizing that, indeed it is not like this. There are cells that behave in a certain way under a certain elasticity, but under a slightly higher elasticity they behave differently. This is very important to understand for example what is the effect of a certain drug when you use it for an in vivo treatment". 

We could say that your central source of study are the cells, any type of cell?

Every day the "cell catalog" expands but, independent of that, today we study very strongly two types context for cells: stem cells and in cancer. In cancer there are many suspicions that the mechanical properties of the extracellular matrix surrounding cells may be important to determine, for example, if  cells behave in a more or less mobile way, if they go into division more or less, etc

So, the meaning of the project at this first stage, which is a stage of installation, is to try to mount an independent investigation in this field. This will be focused, initially, on stomach cancer and breast cancer cell lines, by two very simple reasons: the first is that they are two types of cancer that are frequent in Chile. The second is that they are two types of cancer in which one of them has been quite studied in a mechanical context -breast cancer- but that there are still uncertainties regarding the role of the Wnt signaling pathway. And regarding the second, which is gastric cancer, very little is known about the mechanical context but the non-canonical Wnt pathway has been quite studied.

[SPANISH] “It is not that we are looking for an umpteenth cure for cancer but we are just at the stage of trying to understand how the different factors - whether genetic mutations, environmental conditions and, in this case, the conditions surrounding cells- influence the possible development of a disease.

Regarding the research project, what are your short-term goals, Pablo?

Consolidate with a research line, although you never knows where the scientific questions will lead you. On the other hand, I hope to get more funding. I hope also to get some results from this line and try to link it to lecturing and communication.

Now, from the point of view of the research line it-self, I hope to learn about a topic that I consider very important and that is: how these properties from the environment influence the cellular behavior in the context of disease, which is something we still do not know.

In deep...
A manifest for science


Pablo Astudillo, is also one of the founders of the movement "Más ciencia para Chile" (More Science for Chile) and author of the book Manifiesto por la Ciencia”. Here the researcher reveals a not very auspicious diagnosis of the situation of science in Chile but, at the same time, it proposes ideas to face and strengthen it.

Isidora Sesnic
Reportage: Isidora Sesnic

9, April 2018

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