Softness Indicates Metastatic Cells

The tenderness of cancer cells squeezed by a special apparatus can help pinpoint the ones most likely to spread the disease.

Oct 15, 2012
Edyta Zielinska

An atomic force microscope with a microscale cantilever, and a petri dish of ovarian cancer cells.Georgia Institute of Technology, Rob FeltResearchers were able to use cell stiffness to differentiate between metastatic ovarian cancer cells and those that were less likely to spread and grow in new locations. Examining a cell line known to be highly metastatic and one that rarely metastasizes, the researchers measured the cells’ pliability by tapping them using a microscopic probe  and an atomic force microscope, and accurately predicted which cell line it came from, with cells of the metastatic line being consistently softer. The researchers say that the study, published earlier this month (October 4) in the journal PLOS ONE, could one day help doctors choose more or less aggressive treatment depending on whether the cancer is metastatic or not.

The finding makes sense, said author Todd Sulchek from Georgia Institute of Technology in a press release. “In order to spread, metastatic cells must push themselves into the bloodstream. As a result, they must be highly deformable and softer.”

According to the authors, if the technology is developed further, and validated for other cancer types, it could prove a useful biomarker for finding cells with high metastatic potential.