alt=”Microscope image of lung tissue” class=”figure” src=”/wp-content/uploads/understanding-main-01.jpg”
style=”width: 685px; height: 300px; ” title=”The development of the airways of the lungs is a
focus of research in the lab of Celeste Nelson. This image of a lung of a bearded dragon lizard is featured
in Princeton’s 2011 Art of Science exhibit, which runs through November 2012. Click the image to view the
entire Art of Science gallery.” />

Biologists have long been fascinated by the first moments when cells divide to become complex
tissues and organisms. Now engineers — with an eye toward treating cancer and regenerating tissue
— are increasingly joining the hunt for the quantitative principles and underlying mathematics
that determine how these processes succeed or fail.

Shvartsman Ph.D. ’99, a professor of chemical”>”>chemical
and biological engineering who also holds an appointment in Princeton’s Lewis”>”>Lewis
Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, is developing statistical approaches to understanding
the way chemicals spread signals across an embryo. Shvartsman and colleagues published a breakthrough in
this work Oct. 17 in the journal” target=”_blank”>Development.

In the lab of Celeste”>”>Celeste Nelson,
assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, Cecillia Lui ’11 recently turned her
senior thesis into a peer-reviewed article on the mechanics of stem-cell differentiation in breast tissue,
which could have implications for understanding breast cancer. Another former undergraduate, Jay Kwak ’09,
is co-author with Nelson of a new study revealing that normal lung-tissue development is governed by a
single mathematical equation.

In the same department, Assistant Professor Clifford”>”>Clifford
Brangwynne focuses on a cell component called the nucleolus, a loose confederation of proteins and
RNA that produces the hardware that builds cells from the inside out. A long-term goal is to tune the
properties of this tiny bioreactor to adjust cell growth, which could be useful in battling the runaway
expansion that characterizes cancer.