In comparison to most tissues in the body, epithelial tissues are simple structures, that contain only a small number of cell types. They take their nutrition from underlying tissues, so need no blood supply, nor do they have nerve endings. They are, however, also extremely important, forming boundaries between organs, and a protective barrier between ourselves and the outside world.
A cell-centred approach to modelling the behaviour of epithelial tissues has allowed us to explore the development of properly structured and functional tissue, and to look at the response of the tissue to insult such as wound healing. The behaviour of the individual cell in its mechanical and biochemical environment is central to these issues, and it seems self-evident that an exploration of cellular behaviour has to start from a model of the individual cell and its interaction with the environment.
Physiome models in general do not encompass development – they are a snapshot of the behaviour of the system at a particular point in its development, and are unable to provide insight into either the processes that lead to the current state or future changes (the prognosis). The research direction of the Smallwood group is that the modelling of cellular behaviour can provide this developmental perspective, and the tools we have developed allow our cellular models to be embedded in continuum models of tissue behaviour. The missing link is that between transcriptomics and cellular behaviour, and we have been developing this link.
For more information, please see the ‘Epitheliome Project’ website.