Mechanics of development and disease

Vito Conte | Junior Group Leader
Agata Nyga | Postdoctoral Researcher


In the group we advance cross-disciplinary research at the interface between engineering, biology and physics. We are interested in deciphering the physical mechanisms of development and disease in biological organisms.

We do so by studying how cell and tissue mechanics determine structure and function in these organisms. To that end, we are developing new biophysical tools to compute cell and tissue forces in arbitrary 3D environments that have realistic geometries and material properties, such as anisotropy, heterogeneity, poroelasticity, and non-linear viscoelasticity. We utilise these tools to carry out in vivo and in vitro mechanical measurements, which we integrate into 2D and 3D physical models of the biological organisms under study. The in silico models we build allow us to make predictive biomechanical analyses of these organisms by studying the necessary and sufficient conditions for their development and disease under conditions very close to the real ones.

The group currently has two main fields of research inside IBEC’s Bioengineering for Future Medicine pillar.

Biomechanical regulation of cancer progression
Our research in this field moves from growing evidence that cancer progression alters mechanical properties of cells and tissues affected by the disease. However, we ignore whether these alterations feed back into the cancer progression and, for that reason, may represent potential means to hinder or arrest the disease biomechanically. We want to understand the interplay between mechanics and malignancy of tissues to help identify new biomechanical markers or physical mechanisms of cancer progression that are clinically targetable for the prevention and treatment of the disease.

Embryo morphogenesis
In 2016 we started to explore how cell and tissue mechanics in the early embryo are associated to and regulated by a concerted programme of gene expression. This programme transforms the embryo from a simple unstructured organism into a healthy complex organism. Specifically, we’re interested in quantifying the forces defining the physical mechanisms that morph the fruit fly blastula into the gastrula. Gastrulation is a key stage in the healthy development of the embryo of most animals: if anything goes awry during this process a diseased or abormal phenotype is produced if the embryo survives at all.

Right: In vivo biomechanical quantification of ventral furrow invagination in the Drosophila melanogaster embryo.


IBEC’s newest junior group leader: Vito Conte

Vito Conte may be familiar to many, having spent more than four years in Xavier Trepat’s Integrative Cell and Tissue Dynamics group, first as a postdoc and later as a Juan de la Cierva fellow. Vito now is a Ramon y Cajal fellow and leads the Mechanics of Development and Disease group, which will take a new direction as he develops new biophysical tools to quantify the mechanics of cell and tissues in 3D environments.


National projects
CancerMechReg Regulacion biomecanica de la progresion del cancer (2016-2019) MINECO, Proyectos I+D Excelencia Vito Conte


Sunyer, R., Conte, V., Escribano, J., Elosegui-Artola, A., Labernadie, A., Valon, L., Navajas, D., García-Aznar, J. M., Muñoz, J. J., Roca-Cusachs, P., Trepat, X., (2016). Collective cell durotaxis emerges from long-range intercellular force transmission Science 353, 6304, 1157-1161


  • Mechanical quantification in vitro and in vivo
  • Experimental physical modelling in silico


  • José Muñoz
    Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC)

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