Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Feeling the Force of Cancer

The spread of cancer cells from primary tumors to other parts of the body remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

The research groups of Roderick Lim and Cora-Ann Schoenenberger from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, reveal in the journal "Nature Nanotechnology" how the unique nanomechanical properties of breast cancer cells are fundamental to the process of metastasis.

Using ARTIDIS to feel the tissue structure of a tumor biopsy by a nanometer-sized atomic force microscope tip
Image: Martin Oeggerli

The discovery of specific breast cancer “fingerprints” was made using breakthrough nanotechnology known as ARTIDIS. Lim’s team has now been awarded about 1.2 million Swiss francs from the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) to further develop ARTIDIS.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women with 5500 patients being diagnosed with the disease in Switzerland each year. Despite major scientific advancements in our understanding of the disease, breast cancer diagnostics remains slow and subjective. Here, the real danger lies in the lack of knowing whether metastasis, the spread of cancer, has already occurred. Nevertheless, important clues may be hidden in how metastasis is linked to specific structural alterations in both cancer cells and the surrounding extracellular matrix. This forms the motivation behind ARTIDIS (“Automated and Reliable Tissue Diagnostics”), which was conceived by Dr. med. Marko Loparic, Dr. Marija Plodinec and Prof. Roderick Lim to measure the local nanomechanical properties of tissue biopsies.

“Fingerprinting” breast tumors

At the heart of ARTIDIS lies an ultra-sharp atomic force microscope tip of several nanometers in size that is used as a local mechanical probe to “feel” the cells and extracellular structures within a tumor biopsy. In this way, a nanomechanical “fingerprint” of the tissue is obtained by systematically acquiring tens of thousands of force measurements over an entire biopsy. Subsequent analysis of over one hundred patient biopsies could confirm that the fingerprint of malignant breast tumors is markedly different as compared to healthy tissue and benign tumors. This was validated by histological analyses carried out by clinicians at the University Hospital Basel, which showed a complete agreement with ARTIDIS. Moreover, the same nanomechanical fingerprints were found in animal studies initiated at the Friedrich Miescher Institute.

Plodinec, first author of the study, explains: “This unique fingerprint reflects the heterogeneous make-up of malignant tissue whereas healthy tissue and benign tumors are more homogenous.” Strikingly, malignant tissue also featured a marked predominance of “soft” regions that is a characteristic of cancer cells and the altered microenvironment at the tumor core. The significance of these findings lies in reconciling the notion that soft cancer cells can more easily deform and “squeeze” through their surroundings. Indeed, the presence of the same type of “soft” phenotype in secondary lung tumors of mice reinforces the close correlation between the physical properties of cancer cells and their metastatic potential.

ARTIDIS in the clinics

“Resolving such basic scientific aspects of cancer further underscores the use of nanomechanical fingerprints as quantitative markers for cancer diagnostics with the potential to prognose metastasis.”, states Loparic, who is project manager for ARTIDIS. On an important practical note, a complete biopsy analysis by ARTIDIS currently takes four hours in comparison to conventional diagnostics, which can take one week. Based on the potential societal impact of ARTIDIS to revolutionize breast cancer diagnostics, Lim’s team and the Swiss company Nanosurf AG have now been awarded about 1.2 million Swiss francs by the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI) to further develop ARTIDIS into a state-of-the-art device for disease diagnostics with further applications in nanomedicine.

Over the next two years, Lim and colleagues will engage and work closely with clinicians to develop ARTIDIS into an easy-to-use “push-button” application to fingerprint diseases across a wide range of biological tissues. As a historical starting point, the first ARTIDIS demo-lab has already been established at the University Hospital Eye Clinic to collect data on retinal diseases with the goal of improving treatment strategies.

Original article
Marija Plodinec, Marko Loparic, Christophe A. Monnier, Ellen C. Obermann, Rosanna Zanetti-Dallenbach, Philipp Oertle, Janne T. Hyotyla, Ueli Aebi, Mohamed Bentires-Alj, Roderick Y. H. Lim, and Cora-Ann Schoenenberger
The nanomechanical signature of breast cancer
Nature Nanotechnology (2012); Published online 21 October 2012 | doi: 10.1038/nnano.2012.167
Further Information
Prof. Dr. Roderick Lim, Biozentrum und Swiss Nanoscience Institute der Universität Basel, Tel. +41 61 267 20 83, E-Mail:

Dr. Thomas Schnyder | Universität Basel
Further information:

More articles from Medical Engineering:

nachricht Gentle sensors for diagnosing brain disorders
29.09.2016 | King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

nachricht New imaging technique in Alzheimer’s disease - opens up possibilities for new drug development
28.09.2016 | Lund University

All articles from Medical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

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...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

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

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>