Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Battery of tests on cancer cells shows them as 'squishy,' yet tactically strong

Student researchers get a new view of the dynamics of cancer cells as they metastasize

A team of student researchers and their professors from 20 laboratories around the country have gotten a new view of cancer cells. The work could shed light on the transforming physical properties of these cells as they metastasize, said Jack R. Staunton, a Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State University in the lab of Prof. Robert Ros, and the lead author of a paper reporting on the topic.

Metastasis is a critical step in the progression of cancer. It is when the cancer spreads from one organ or part to another. While much is known about metastasis, it remains an incomplete understanding of the physical biology of the transition.

To get a better understanding of metastasis, more than 95 graduate students, post docs and professors in a variety of laboratories across the U.S. subjected two cell lines to a battery of high-tech tests and measurements. Their results, outlined in the paper "A physical sciences network characterization of non-tumorigenic and metastatic cells," were published today (April 26, 2013) in Scientific Reports.

The researchers performed coordinated molecular and biophysical studies of non-malignant and metastatic breast cell lines to learn more about what happens to a cell when it transitions to a metastatic state.

Each laboratory is part of the National Cancer Institute's Physical Sciences Oncology Center (PSOC), a network of 12 centers devoted to understanding the physical sciences of cancer. ASU's center, the Center for the Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology, is led by Prof. Paul Davies.

Each PS-OC was supplied with identical cell lines and common reagents, and considerable effort was made to ensure that all the conditions were standardized and documented at regular intervals. Staunton said the ASU group made three contributions to the study.

Other ASU researchers involved in the project and co-authors on the paper are: Alexander Fuhrmann, Vivek Nandakumar, Laimonas Kelbauskas, Patti Senechal, Courtney Hemphill, Roger H. Johnson and Deirdre Meldrum.

"We compared the stiffness of normal breast cells and highly metastatic breast cancer cells, and found the cancer cells to be significantly more 'squishy' or deformable," Staunton said. "This makes sense because in order for a cell to metastasize, it has to squeeze through tight passages in the lymphatics and microvasculature, so being squishy helps cancer cells spread through the body."

"We also looked at the morphology of their nuclei," he added. "The cancer cell nuclei were found to have a characteristic 'crushed beach-ball' shape that might correspond to the abnormal chromosomal rearrangements associated with cancer."

"Finally, we took individual cells, put each one in an airtight chamber, and measured how much oxygen they consumed," Staunton said. "This tells us about their metabolism. We found the cancer cells use less oxygen, relying more on glycolysis, kind of like what bacteria and yeast do."

Taken together, researchers at the 12 PSOC's used some 20 distinct techniques, including atomic force microscopy, ballistic intracellular nano-rheology, cell surface receptor expression levels, differential interference contrast microscopy, micro-patterning and extracellular matrix secretion, and traction force microscopy.

The work has enabled a comprehensive cataloging and comparison of the physical characteristics of non-malignant and metastatic cells, and the molecular signatures associated with those characteristics. This made it possible to identify unique relationships between observations, Staunton said.

"We were surprised that even though the cancer cells are softer, they are able to exert more contractile forces on the fibers surrounding them – which was determined at the Cornell University PSOC by a method called traction force microscopy. This pair of characteristics is somewhat contradictory from a purely physical perspective, but it makes sense for a cancer cell, since both traits improve their chances of metastasizing. Understanding why is still an active area of research," explained Staunton, who is working towards his doctorate in physics.

"Another interesting finding was that a protein called CD44, which doubles as a cancer stem cell marker and as a molecule that helps the cell stick to certain fibers in the extracellular matrix, is equally abundant in the normal and cancer cells. But in the cancer cells the proteins don't make it to the cell surface," he added.

"For some reason they stay inside the cytoplasm, so the cancer cells are not as sticky," added Staunton whose hometown is Buffalo, N.Y. "This is another trait that contributes to their ability to spread through the body."

The PSOC network went to great lengths to have all of the studies performed under comparable conditions. While the cell lines studied are well understood, part of the effort for the network was to prove they could consistently coordinate the research.

Staunton, who has been involved in ASU's center since its inception, says the experience has helped his growth as a researcher.

"It is the perfect habitat for budding scientists and for transdisciplinary collaborations," he said.

Jack "Rory" Staunton, (480) 809-7212
Media contact:
Skip Derra, (480) 965-4823;

Skip Derra | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>