The primary goal of the Jones Lab research group is to determine how the extracellular matrix (ECM), a cell-derived woven and globular protein network that envelopes or contacts most cells within the body—an architectural textile of sorts—changes throughout development and disease, and how alterations in this 3D ECM environment feed back to control cell and tissue behavior at the level of the genome and beyond in real time.
Towards these goals, and in the context of the Sabin+Jones LabStudio collaboration, we began by studying the influence of different extracellular matrix components, such as laminin and type I collagen, on a number of nonlinear biological processes, including tumor formation, cell motility and networking behavior.
Ultimately, at the patho-physiological level, a major aim of our collaborative research is to derive new structural and functional information from each of these dynamic systems in an effort to diagnose, prognosticate and treat human disease.
Over the past three decades, it has been firmly established that 3D cell and tissue architecture, at the level of the ECM, exerts a dominant influence over the genetic makeup of a cell or individual. In this sense, the ECM represents a key phenotypic determinant of cells within tissues. In essence, much of the secret of life resides outside the cell within the extracellular matrix. Importantly, the ECM not only acts as a physical entity, which lends flexibility and physical support to cells within tissues, but it also behaves as an informational entity, an ongoing and historical document that records what transpires in and around a cell during the lifetime of an organism.
Clearly, these biological models are underscored at the cellular and molecular levels by complex non-linear responses to complex and dynamic scenarios. Thus, we posit that a rigorous understanding and analysis of these types of models will allow architects to retool and revaluate how we may negotiate topics such as nonlinear fabrication, feedback and performance in architecture. On the architectural side, rather than seeking direct translation of the science to architecture and vice versa, this research collaboration is about working through biological design problems that give rise to new modes of thinking and working in design and biomedicine.
On the design-studio side, our aim is to introduce biologists to digital and algorithmic architectural tools that may be used to reveal new complexities within the biological systems being studied. Additionally, by specifically examining dynamic cellular systems, our intent is to discover new ways of understanding, revealing and abstracting how these biological systems negotiate issues of auto- and artificial-fabrication. Here structure and material are inextricably linked. Cells and tissues not only produce their own underlying, self-produced fabric, but they modify and respond to this woven, felted or embellished environment. A digital code begets a physical code that informs the physical code and so on.
For the networking projects, we are investigating part-to-whole relationships during capillary formation by lung endothelial cells. At the biological level, coordinated cellular networking is required to form the exquisite fractal network that emerges in the developing and mature lung to facilitate efficient gas exchange from birth onwards. Real-time imaging of endothelial cells cultured within specialized ECM microenvironments, that either suppress or promote networking, formed the basis for these projects. Sophisticated multi-dimensional organotypic biological models studied within LabStudio, particularly those aimed at understanding self-organization and the emergence of complex, non-linear global systems from simple local rules of engagement, have led to the discovery of new forms and structural organizations within architectural design. For example, the project entitled “Branching Morphogenesis”, which was on view at Ars Electronica, Linz, Austria, investigates part-to-whole relationships revealed during the generation of branched structures formed during blood vessel formation in vitro. The study and quantification of this vascular network allows for a greater understanding of how variable components give rise to structured networks in both biology and architecture.