Cell mechanical properties as a new biomarker for cancer

Cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, or almost one in six. The most common causes of cancer death in 2022 were lung (1.80 million deaths), colon and rectum (916.000 deaths), liver (830.000 deaths), stomach (769.000 deaths), and breast (685.000 deaths). 

Cancer arises from the transformation of normal cells into malignant cells. These changes result from the interaction between genetic predisposition and environmental factors (carcinogens). The most often cancer treatments are surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy alone or in combination. However, specific treatment varies depending on the type of cancer, the severity of the disease, the progression rate, the patient’s health, and the response to therapy.

Changes in the cell stiffness, the extracellular matrix (EMC), and the microenvironment’s mechanical properties impact cancer progression. While cancer cells are generally softer than healthy cells, tumors tend to be stiffer than surrounding tissues due to matrix stiffening linked to fibrosis. In addition, changes in the tumor microenvironment through ECM remodeling lead to metastatic dissemination. ECM remodeling may alter cellular behaviors, such as recognition of matrix geometry and rigidity, cytoskeletal reorganization, cell polarization, motility, and proliferation.

Advanced mechanical characterization tools may deepen comprehension of cancer cell morphology and mechanics and their role in development, physiology, and disease. In this sense, Optics11 Life nanoindenters emerge as a powerful method for new therapeutic approaches for cancer. The devices may identify the mechanical difference between normal and malignant cells and predict cancer progression. Translating these approaches into clinical and therapeutic interventions could enable new cancer treatments.

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References

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