A phase-contrast microscopy-based method for modeling the mechanical behavior of mesenchymal stem cells

Mayssam Saeed, Orna Sharabani-Yosef, Daphne Weihs*, Amit Gefen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present three-dimensional (3D) finite element (FE) models of single, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), generated from images obtained by optical phase-contrast microscopy and used to quantify the structural responses of the studied cells to externally applied mechanical loads. Mechanical loading has been shown to affect cell morphology and structure, phenotype, motility and other biological functions. Cells experience mechanical loads naturally, yet under prolonged or sizable loading, damage and cell death may occur, which motivates research regarding the structural behavior of loaded cells. For example, near the weight-bearing boney prominences of the buttocks of immobile persons, tissues may become highly loaded, eventually leading to massive cell death that manifests as pressure ulcers. Cell-specific computational models have previously been developed by our group, allowing simulations of cell deformations under compressive or stretching loads. These models were obtained by reconstructing specific cell structures from series of 2D fluorescence, confocal image-slices, requiring cell-specific fluorescent-staining protocols and costly (confocal) microscopy equipment. Alternative modeling approaches represent cells simply as half-spheres or half-ellipsoids (i.e. idealized geometries), which neglects the curvature details of the cell surfaces associated with changes in concentrations of strains and stresses. Thus, we introduce here for the first time an optical image-based FE modeling, where loads are simulated on reconstructed 3D geometrical cell models from a single 2D, phase-contrast image. Our novel modeling method eliminates the need for confocal imaging and fluorescent staining preparations (both expensive), and makes cell-specific FE modeling affordable and accessible to the biomechanics community. We demonstrate the utility of this cost-effective modeling method by performing simulations of compression of MSCs embedded in a gel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1359-1362
Number of pages4
JournalComputer Methods in Biomechanics and Biomedical Engineering
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2 Oct 2016


  • Mechanobiology
  • cell deformation
  • cell-specific modeling
  • finite element analysis


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