PhD Scholarship Top-up student profile: Iman Jalilian

Impact of the Actin Cytoskeleton on the Mechanical Properties of Cells

Award:  Iman is the recipient of a two-year PhD Scholarship Top-up

Supervisor:  Prof Peter Gunning, Professor of Oncology Research, School of Medical Sciences, UNSW

Research over the years has revealed that the actin cytoskeleton largely defines the shape and mechanical properties of cells. Furthermore, actin binding proteins are known to contribute to the organisational and dynamic nature of actin filaments ultimately influencing their elastic properties. However, the exact impact of these proteins on the mechanical properties of cells is still unknown. Tropomyosins (Tms) form a co-polymer with actin filaments and differentially regulate actin filament stability and function. The aim of this study is to determine the impact of different Tm-containing actin filaments on the organisation of the actin cytoskeleton and the mechanical properties of cells using atomic force microscopy


What is the translational application of your research?

Previous studies have demonstrated that cancer cells are 70% softer than normal cells and this increasing in elasticity is accompanied by alterations in the cytoarchitecture that have known associations with malignant transformation. Therefore, cell elasticity is considered as a new characteristic for detecting cancer cells. Understanding the role of actin in cancer metastasis and also cell mechanics would enhance our perspective in the fight against cancer where new and more effective drugs could be designed to stop cancer progression and metastasis.

Further, the knowledge obtained from cellular biomechanics can be useful in the development of new and improved assays and diagnostic devices that are not only sensitive enough in the early detection of diseases but are also highly accurate, even when the symptoms or signs of the diseases are hardly discernable. Accordingly, AFM-based nanomechanical analysis correlates extremely well with traditional pathological cancer cell detection, indicating that AFM may provide an additional platform for nanomechanical-based analysis in near future. This is particularly needed for diseases such as cancer where early diagnosis and detection are crucial for their prevention and control.


“By being an active member of the network and interacting with other people especially clinicians, I have this opportunity to get new insights about how basic research can impact on patient care. Also, I will get to see how our research in the lab can be interpreted in clinic in terms of developing new tools or methods for better detection and possibly treatment of different diseases.”

This PhD research has been presented at scientific meetings and symposiums:

  • Poster presentation at the ASMR conference, 2012 (Sydney)
  • Oral presentation at the ComBio 2012 conference (Adelaide)
  • Oral presentation at the BioArchitecture Symposium, Feb 2013 (UNSW)
  • Oral presentation at the Sydney Imaging Symposium, 2013 (UNSW)
  • Poster presentation at the Lowy Cancer Symposium, May 2013 (UNSW)
  • Poster presentation at the ASMR conference, 2013 (Sydney)
  • Selected for an oral presentation at the Biomedical Engineering Society Meeting (BMES) in September 2013. 

Iman Jalilian completed the third year of his PhD studies at the School of Medical Sciences, UNSW in 2013.

 Iman Jalilian
 TCRN PhD Scholarship Top-up awardee Iman Jalilian