A DIFFERENT ANGLE
Biologist Radhika Atit pursues a novel approach to treating a deadly disease
BY DAVID LEVIN
Fall | Winter 2020
Look closely at the natural world, and you’ll see patterns everywhere. There’s the delicate spiral of flower petals sprouting from a bud. The hexagonal layout of a honeycomb. The highly ordered structure of a crystal.
Radhika Atit, professor in the Department of Biology at Case Western Reserve, has long been fascinated by arrangements like these. She’s spent her career studying the development of skin, which contains its own complex pattern of cells—particularly in the dermis, a deep layer of skin that holds hair follicles, sweat glands and connective tissue like collagen, a structural protein central to Atit’s research.
The intricate order that exists within the skin can be easily disrupted, Atit says. Deep cuts, scrapes, burns or other wounds can destroy the patterns of growth. One of collagen’s functions is to fill in such wounds—but in doing so, it edges out space for cells and other structures. It’s a bit like punching a hole in an intricate mosaic, and then slopping concrete into the void: an effective patch, yes, but far from an elegant one.
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