The Rowat Lab studies cells as materials. We seek to translate our discoveries to applications from human health to the foods that we eat.

Biology is commonly described in terms of specific genes and chemical reactions – transcription, translation – and cells as sacs filled with DNA. But cells are materials and the physical properties of cells are critical for many physiological functions: how cells deform to circulate through the body; how cells resist mechanical stresses – like stretching or squeezing – is important for homeostasis, and also critical in many diseases where cells have altered physical properties.

In the Rowat lab we think about how tissues and cells sense and respond to external cues in terms of cells as materials: how do cells maintain their physical properties and regulate them in response to external cues?

To address this question we have three main research goals:

  • MEASURE: We are developing new mechanotyping technologies, such as self-assembling scaffolds that have tunable mechanics and topology as well as a deformability screening platform – we recently tested thousands of small molecules and found compounds that make cancer cells stiffer and less invasive; this also enables us to develop systems-level knowledge of the ‘mechanome’.
  • UNDERSTAND: Measuring physical properties are not enough. We are defining the molecules and pathways that regulate cellular mechanotype. For example, we discovered that soluble stress hormones activate a pathway that causes cancer cells to increases the forces they use to pull on their surrounding matrix, which makes them invade more quickly. Knowing that molecules are involved is an important first step towards intervening to stop cancer cells from spreading.
  • TRANSLATE: We are harnessing mechanobiology for translation to applications from cancer to cellular agriculture. In addition to molecules we have identified to stop cancer cell invasion, we are also applying our knowledge to tumors as 3D materials. For example, modulating cellular force generation can change tumor porosity, and ultimately increase the accessibility to chemotherapy drugs. While cancer is a main focus of our work, our approaches can be broadly applied across cell types, and we have also investigated cell physical properties in the context of immune cells to cardiac regeneration to neurological movement disorders such as dystonia to cultured meat.

To achieve these research goals, our multidisciplinary team consists of researchers with backgrounds in cell biology, physics, engineering, cancer progression, systems biology, and chemistry. The physical properties of cells and nuclei are also interesting in the context of food and cooking. For example, why do some cells have a stiffness similar to Jell-o, while others are more like cream cheese? How can we engineer cultured meat that has delicious texture? Food is rich with examples of scientific concepts, and is also an excellent way to engage students and a general audience in the excitement of scientific inquiry, the origins of what we eat, and the beauty of science in everyday life. Learn more on our Science & Food blog hosted by Discover Magazine. For more information about next year's Science & Food course and associated outreach and public events, stay tuned here.




Our work is supported by the National Science Foundation (CAREER DBI-1254185, BMMB-1906165), the Department of Defense (Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Pilot Award), the Good Food Institute, New Harvest, the UCLA California NanoSystems Institute Noble Family Innovation Fund, a UCLA Physical Sciences Entrepreneurship and Innovation Award, a UCLA Life Sciences Innovation Fund Award, the Hellman Foundation, the Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation, the Broad Stem Cell Research Center, the University of California Cancer Research Coordinating Committee, the UCLA Office of Instructional Development, a UCLA Faculty Career Development Award, Biorad, and the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute.
Sept 1, 2021
Amy Rowat is named the first Marcie H. Rothman Presidential Chair in Food Studies. Very grateful to Marcie Rothman for her vision and support of our work!
Aug 24, 2021
A big welcome to Bryanna and Pancho who are joining the team as graduate student researchers in the MS Physiological Sciences program.
May 1, 2021
Amy Rowat is honored to be awarded a UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award with distinction for Undergraduate Mentorship.
April 15, 2021
Excited to have Dr. Jennifer Soto join our team!
July 28, 2020
Congrats and best wishes to postdoctoral researcher Dr. Tae-Hyung Kim as he embarks on his journey to set up his own lab as Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology, University of New Mexico! And a big congratulations to Dr. Kim for being awarded the METAVivor Early Career investigator grant!
July 20, 2020
Congrats to undergraduate researcher Shruti Sharma on her new position at A2 Biotherapeutics!
July 3, 2020
Congrats to Dr. Sammy Norris on being awarded a NIH F32 Postdoctoral Fellowship!
June 20, 2020
Thrilled to have graduate student Angelina Flores join our team!
October 3, 2019
Excited to have to Dr. Sammy Norris join our team!
May 1, 2019
Congratulations to PhD candidate Stephanie Kawecki on being awarded a New Harvest Fellowship.
November 29, 2018
Congratulations Dr. Gill for a successful PhD defense.
February 7, 2018
Amy Rowat is a Finalist for the 2018 SLAS Innovator Award.
August 25, 2017
Congratulations Dr. Nyberg on a successful PhD defense.
August 3, 2017
Congratulations Dr. Nguyen for a successful PhD defense.
April 25, 2017
Kendra awarded the Distinguished Teaching Assistant Award - first to an engineering student in 30 years! Read all about it here.
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