Mechanical Aspects in the Fight of Immune Cells with Bacterial Infections


Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Viola Vogel

Laboratory of Applied Mechanobiology
Department of Health Sciences and Technology ETH Zurich
Wolfgang-Pauli-Strasse 10 (Building HCI F443, Hönggerberg)
CH-8093 Zürich, Switzerland
Phone: +41 44 632 08 87 or 3053 (Norma Degiuseppe)
Fax: +41 44 632 10 73
Email: or

11:30 – 12:30
Thursday, 27 August 2015
Space 1 & 2



Many strategies have been applied in the last decade to fight bacterial infections with drugs that were primarily designed to either kill bacteria, including antibiotics, or more recently to prevent their adhesion to surfaces and host tissues. Little attention though has been given to ask how these strategies might affect the ability of our immune cells to fight bacterial infections. To clear pathogens from host tissues or from the surfaces of implants, macrophages have to first recognize their prey, then hold on to it and finally pull with sufficient force to enable a phagocytotic uptake. Unexpectedly, novel insights into the nanomechanical aspects how macrophages forcefully play with their prey revealed some adverse and unanticipated side effects how common antibacterial drugs impair the ability of our own immune cells to fight infections.


Viola Vogel is a Professor in the Department of Health Science and Technology heading the Laboratory of Applied Mechanobiology at the ETH Zürich, Switzerland. Trained as a Physicist and with her graduate research conducted at the Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, she spent two years as postdoctoral fellow at the University of California Berkeley. As faculty member, she joined the Department of Bioengineering at the University of Washington/Seattle in 1990 and moved there through the ranks to Full Professor. She was the Founding Director of the Center for Nanotechnology at the University of Washington (1997-2003) prior to her move to Switzerland in 2004. She exploits nanotechnology tools to decipher how bacteria and mammalian cells exploit mechanical forces to recognize and respond to material properties and their native environments. Her discoveries in single molecule and cell mechanics and how protein stretching switches their function, as well as in the field of mechanobiology have a wide range of technical and medical implications. In collaboration with clinicians, several technologies are currently carried towards preclinical studies.