Feel the Pulse: Smooth Muscle Cells Respond to Stretching Forces

This image, captured by Kwabena Badu-Nkansah, illustrates the contraction of smooth muscle cells that prevents arteries from expanding every time the heart beats.

Kwabena Badu-Nkansah
Hynes Laboratory
Koch Institute at MIT

The smooth muscle cells that surround human arteries experience constant pulsating forces as the heart contracts and relaxes. When scientists study these cells, however, they often run their experiments on a rigid plastic plate. Here, researchers attempt to create a more natural environment for the cells using an elastic silicon membrane. By stretching and contracting the membrane, they can observe how healthy and diseased blood vessels respond to the same types of pressures they would experience inside the body.

Kwabena Badu-Nkansah tells the story behind his award-winning image.