Meenal Datta awarded Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) from NIH to investigate immune cell response to mechanical forces

Meenal Datta

Meenal Datta, assistant professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at the University of Notre Dame, has received the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), part of the National Institutes of Health.

The award, which provides $1.9 million over five years, will enable Datta and her lab to contribute to the developing fields of immunomechanics and mechano-immunology by investigating the ways in which immune cells respond to mechanical forces.

Datta, an expert on the biological and mechanical features of tissue microenvironments, will use MIRA funding to establish an immune “mechanome” — a complete inventory of the mechanical responses and characteristics of immune cells. This will provide crucial insights into the relationship between mechanobiology and immunology.

Many diseases and conditions trigger inflammation capable of complicating or entirely thwarting immune function and treatment outcomes. Datta has previously investigated these relationships in infectious disease, genetic abnormalities, and cancer. This is the second time in two years that the NIH has invested in Datta’s research in this area.

“Little is known about the ways immune cells respond to mechanical forces,” said Datta. “A better understanding of the biophysical relationships between these forces and immune cell populations and functions will provide key insights into disease progression and treatment resistance.”

To this end, her lab uses mechanobiological tools combined with mouse models of health and disease, single-cell RNA sequencing, functional immunology, artificial intelligence-informed bioinformatics, and intravital imaging.

Datta joined the Notre Dame faculty in 2021. She teaches in the Notre Dame Bioengineering program, the Materials Science and Engineering doctoral program, and in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering.

— Karla Cruise, Notre Dame College of Engineering