Lab Members

Professor Ewa Paluch, Group Leader
Ewa’s laboratory investigates the principles underlying cellular morphogenesis. Since cell shape is ultimately defined by cellular mechanical properties and by the cell’s physical interactions with its environment, biophysical approaches are essential to understand cell shape control. The lab combines cell biology, biophysics and quantitative imaging, and works in close collaboration with theoretical physicists, to investigate cell shape regulation. We particularly focus on the cellular actin cortex, a thin cytoskeletal network that underlies the plasma membrane and drives most shape changes in animal cells. Ewa’s lab has made seminal contributions to our understanding of the cell cortex, and of its function during cytokinesis, protrusion formation and cell migration.

Margherita Battistara, PhD Student
The Epithelial-Mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a cellular process found in a multitude of developmental, physiological and pathological contexts, in which epithelial cells transdifferentiate into more motile mesenchymal cells. While the factors that trigger such behaviours are conserved across a wide range of taxa, there is little understanding on whether the dynamic of cell shape changes which accompany this transition is similar across different systems. By combining high resolution imaging, 3D cell segmentation and morphometric analysis, the aim of Margheritas project is to compare cell shape changes during mesoderm EMT in two insects, Drosophila melanogaster and Tribolium castaneum. This study will provide insights on the level of conservation of a stereotypical shape transition during animal morphogenesis.

William Foster, PhD student
Primordial germ cells (PGCs) are the cells that go on to become sperm or eggs in the adult organism. During embryonic development, these cells must migrate from a distant location in the embryo to where they are eventually needed, in the gonad. In mammals, the biophysical mechanisms by which this migration occurs are not well understood. The aim of Williams project is to characterise these mechanisms, as well as study how this process can go wrong leading to PGCs that end up in the wrong place (so-called ectopics). Ectopic PGCs are important since they can go on to form extragonadal germ cell tumours. William works in close collaboration with Dr. Harry Leitch (MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences).

Jeanne Lefévère-Laoide, Oliver Gatty PhD student
Jeanne has a background in cell biology, with a strong interest in the interface between cell dynamics and mechanobiology. Her project investigates the mechanical and molecular mechanisms of post-mitotic spreading, and explores its role in cancer. At the onset of mitosis, most cells display mitotic rounding, driven by reduced adhesions to the substrate and an increase in cell surface tension and stiffness. After cytokinesis, the two daughter cells typically spread out. In contrast to mitotic cell rounding, post-mitotic spreading is poorly understood. Using live-cell microscopy, Jeanne aims to quantitatively characterise the dynamic changes in cell shape and mechanical properties occurring during post-mitotic spreading, as well as describe actin regulators at play, in both healthy and cancer cells

Fiona Morgan, Laboratory Manager
Fiona is the Laboratory manager of the Paluch Lab and assists Lab Members in both laboratory work and administration. Fiona joined the Paluch Lab upon the move to Cambridge, having previously worked as a laboratory manager in the Physics of Medicine Building, Department of Physics, and as a research assistant at the Veterinary Medicine Department in Cambridge, working on novel methicillin resistance genes in MRSA, and also in the VISIONLab, working on oxidative stress in drug resistance.



Ruby Peters, Postdoctoral Research Associate
Ruby studies cell shape control in the context of the nanoscale organisation and dynamics of the actomyosin cell cortex. Despite its importance, our understanding of cell shape regulation remains limited, owing to the across-scales and across-disciplines nature of morphogenesis studies. By using state of the art super resolution microscopy, biophysical methods and computational approaches, Ruby aims to connect the nanoscale interactions that occur within the actomyosin cortex to the mechanical properties of the entire cell during fundamental cell shape changes, in particular, during cell division. Ruby’s research is thus highly interdisciplinary, bridging methods in Physics and Biology to uncover fundamental mechanisms of cell shape control, from the single molecule up.

Wolfram Pönisch, Herchel Smith Postdoctoral Fellow Wolfram is a theoretical biological physicist currently working on the how cell shape changes changes during cell state transitions. To this aim, Wolfram uses data analysis tools to investigate high-dimensional data sets of cell shape and state and models the shape change during state transitions as stochastic processes. Overall, Wolfram is curious about understanding biological phenomena with the help of numerical and theoretical tools and in very close collaboration with experimentalists. By both developing and utilising computational approaches, Wolfram aims to learn about what life is, how living matter behaves on different scales and how we can alter its behaviour.

Tasmin Sarkany, PhD Student
Tasmin is interested in the interface between theoretical physics and biology. Her project investigates the link between cell shape and cell fate during cell state transitions. Cell state transitions occur during embryonic development and tissue regeneration and are associated with diseases such as cancer. They are often associated with a change in cell shape, however it is unclear how shape and fate affect each other or what role cell surface mechanics plays in these shape changes. By modelling cell shape change as a stochastic process and the cell cortex as an active surface, she aims to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms underlying cell state transitions.

Marta Urbanska, Postdoctoral Research Associate
Marta is a biophysicist with a deep interest in the role of mechanobiology in development and disease. In her postdoc project, she is investigating how cell fate is influenced by cell surface mechanics in gastruloids — a multicellular model system mimicking a gastrulating embryo. To achieve this, she combines advanced microscopy techniques, cell shape analysis and biophysical characterisation approaches. She is also keen to find out how perturbing cell mechanics during gastruloid growth impacts cell fates and spatial patterning. With this work, she hopes to contribute to answering the long-standing question in developmental biology of how physical determinants coalesce with biochemical signalling to drive embryogenesis.

Neža Vadnjal, PhD Student
Nežas research is focused on unveiling the key factors that control nanoscale cell cortex organisation. The cellular actin cortex offers mechanical support to animal cells. Cell shape changes are consequences of changes in the mechanical properties of the cortex, particularly in cortical tension. Neža firstly investigated how cortex composition changes upon tension increase, allowing for a comprehensive understanding of which are the key molecular factors controlling cortical tension. Another key aspect of Nežas research is investigating how a molecules size affects its cortical localisation. To this end, Neža developed artificial actin crosslinkers of varying sizes and uses advanced microscopy to interrogate how their size affects their localisation and tension generation within the cell cortex during cell division.

Iskra Yanakieva, Postdoctoral Research Associate
Iskra’s project investigates how epithelial cells change their shape during epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). During EMT, a key process in wound healing, embryonic development, and cancer pathogenesis, epithelial cells gain mesenchymal features, such as spread cell morphology and increased motility. Iskra uses highly interdisciplinary approaches to understand how actin reorganisation and the resulting changes in cell mechanics drive epithelial cell shape changes during this process. The project combines state-of-the-art microscopy, quantitative image analysis, biophysical measurements, and molecular cell biology to advance our understanding of how transitions between different types of actin architectures drive cellular morphogenesis.

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Close Collaborators

Geraldine Jowett, Postdoctoral Fellow
Geraldine is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Surani Lab at the University of Cambridge where she investigates the  biophysics of germ cell development. Geraldine’s PhD research focused on a new population of white blood cells called innate lymphoid cells and revealed an unexpected role for these cells in intestinal cancer and fibrotic scar tissue formation. As a Schmidt Science Fellow, Geraldine aims to find a way to study more effectively the physical forces that determine egg and sperm development and can inspire bioengineered gonad designs. Geraldine’s planned research could revolutionize fertility options by understanding the biophysics of sperm and egg development. Geraldine works closely with the Paluch lab to develop new biophysical methods of understanding the forces involved in germ cell development.

Chengxi (Todd) Zhu, Postdoctoral Researcher
Chengxi (Todd) is a postdoctoral researcher in the O’Holleran lab at the Cambridge Advanced Imaging Centre (CAIC), University of Cambridge. Todd is leading the development of CAIC’s Advanced Photomanipulation Microscope funded by a Wellcome Trust Technology Development award. His research focuses on spatial light modulator control of laser light for biological applications including optogenetics and photo-ablation experiments. Todd works closely with Paluch lab members to investigate novel ways to image and measure piconewton scale forces with high precision in the actin cell cortex.

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Paluch Lab Alumni

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Former PhD Students

Former Postdoctoral Researchers

  • Irene Aspalter (Currently a Senior Laboratory Research Scientist at The Francis Crick Institute)
  • Dani Bodor
  • Agathe Chaigne (Currently an Assistant Prof. at Utrecht University)
  • Murielle Serres (Currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at Institut Pasteur)
  • Matthew Smith (Currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at The Francis Crick Institute)
  • Aki Stubb (Currently a Postdoctoral Reseacher at University of Helsinki)
  • Jean Yves Tinevez (Currently a Research Engineer at Institut Curie)
  • Binh An Truong Quang
  • Ortrud Wartlick