Rebecca Wells, M.D., is Professor of Medicine, Bioengineering, and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine with graduate area affiliations in Bioengineering, Cell and Molecular Biology, and Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the Director of Education of the Center for Engineering MechanoBiology.
The Wells Lab focuses on the mechanism and consequences of hepatic fibrosis. Overall, the goal of the research team is to develop a unified and comprehensive model of liver fibrosis that incorporates multiple cell types, soluble and secreted factors, matrix proteins, and local and regional mechanical factors.
Liver fibrosis results from the deposition of excess, abnormal extracellular matrix by myofibroblasts derived from non-fibrogenic cells that undergo “activation” in the context of chronic liver injury. Fibrosis in the bile duct is a similar matrix-driven process, although the identity of the myofibroblast populations and the chronic vs. acute nature of the injury are not known.
The Wells Lab is investigating the mechanisms of fibrosis in four ways: a) by studying the matrix, mechanical, and soluble factors that influence fibrosis, including the activation of myofibroblast precursor populations; b) by studying the interactions between proteoglycans and collagen as it relates to fibrotic diseases; c) by identifying new fibrogenic cell populations and new means of studying previously identified cells; and d) by applying the results of experiments with isolated cells to whole animal models and to the study of human diseases, including hepatocellular carcinoma, fatty liver disease, and biliary fibrosis.
Keywords: Hepatic stellate cells, liver fibrosis, TGF-ß, portal fibroblasts, biliary atresia, liver mechanics, fibronectin; mechanobiology
Working Group(s): Working Group 2: How do cells adapt to and change their mechanical environment?; Working Group 3: How do cells remember their mechanical environment?; Working Group 4: Crosscutting and Emerging Technologies