I am a Physicist with a PhD in experimental biophysics and my work pursues simple mechanical models to explain how phenotypical traits or cooperative behavior is developed in different microbe species and cancer. I use a combination of microscopy, optical manipulation, modelling and recombinant methods to describe cells dynamic strategies. In parallel I have obtained great expertise in optical trapping with a world record in optical trapping of quantum dots in water and of gold nanoparticles in air.

How hot is a nanoparticle? The plasmonic properties of nanoparticles lead to extreme enhancements of local near-fields which can radically change the physical environment. These properties make metallic nanoparticles useful for cellular investigations and control through thermal activation and heat treatments. Previous studies have demonstrated the feasibility of using external fields to selectively trigger, e.g., heat generation in metallic nanostructures, release of liposome content, and ablation of cancer cells. I am associated to an interdisciplinary research center, LANTERN, which seeks to understand the interaction between light absorption, heat, and radiation of individual gold nanoparticles to develop a novel form for nanoparticle-based cancer therapy.

How does the cytoskeleton regulate cell polarity and vice versa? This question has fascinated biophyscists for over a century and is directly relevant to cancer and other important medical problems. I study the two pathways of this positive feedback loop independently to obtain knowledge of the whole. For the first part I measure microtubules dynamics and relevant protein distributions in a modified symmetric fission yeast cell. For the second part, I change the cell shape to measure how the self-organizing cytoskeleton responds to position the microtubules organizing center correctly.

How does cytoskeletal symmetry breaks regulate pattern formations? Active chiral processes play an important role in pattern formation as well as during embryonic development. The latter may be related to cytoskeletal chirality, e.g., to an asymmetric orientation of the mitotic spindle during cell division or, in the case of C. elegans, to chiral torque generation in the cortex. I study the growth of several microbial species and mutants lacking certain surface structures under varying environmental conditions. Although the microscopic mechanisms for chirality are very different between bacteria and other species, some conclusions of our work could generalize to other settings. In particular, my collaborators and I established an experimental approach to study chiral phenomena in two-dimensional cultures and highlighted the role of surface structure and adhesion in chiral pattern formation.

When do cancer cells choose to migrate through tissue? Embryonic stem cells possess a high degree of plasticity for proliferation and differentiation. During differentiation, stem cells follow a strict organized pathway to tissue specificity, which is associated with a permanent cell cycle arrest and a loss of plasticity. In contrast, cancer cells retain elevated levels of plasticity that include switches between epithelial and mesenchymal phenotypes. I study how elevated plasticity and loss of polarity affects the cancer cells decision making in aim of attacking this spreading pathway.