"Sweet spot" for cancer exposes migration patterns of spreading cells
A research team working to better understand the movements of cancerous cells has made an important breakthrough, describing a "sweet spot" where they like to congregate. The discovery offers valuable new insights into the migration patterns of these cells as they invade the body, and could lead to new opportunities to stop them in their tracks.
Led by researchers at the University of Minnesota, the study builds on previous work in which the team found cells have an ability to sense the stiffness of their environment. This may be the rigid nature of bone material, the softer surroundings of fatty tissue or the medium stiffness of muscle tissue in between. This earlier research showed that the ability of cells to move differs between these environments. It also showed that there is a sweet spot for stiffness, in which the cells gain the best traction and can move at faster speeds.
Scientists had always thought that cells will naturally move towards stiffer environments, but in their latest work the authors show this isn't necessarily the case. The experiments deployed brain and breast cancer cells in between two environments, a stiffer region and a softer region, and the scientists observed for the first time that cells can actually gravitate towards the middle, which they describe as a "sweet spot."
“This discovery challenges the current thinking in the field, which is that cells only move toward stiffer environments,” said study author David Odde. “I think that this finding will change how people think about this phenomenon. Our mathematical model predicted, and we’ve shown through experiments, that cells actually can move toward the softer side.”
The experiments also produced a possible explanation for the rise of the conventional view that cells move toward stiffer environments. The team found that some of the cells they studied, such as breast cancer cells, featured feedback mechanisms that enable them to grip more strongly to stiffer environments. However, switching off genes responsible for this mechanism then saw the cells gravitate toward the middle.
“We’re basically decoding how cancer cells invade tissue,” Odde said. “They don’t just move randomly. They actually have particular ways in which they like to move, and if we can understand that, we may be better able to trip them up.”
From here, the team plans to develop a simulator that models how cancer cells move through a tumor. And with a clearer picture of where they are likely to move and why, the hope is that scientists can better understand the spread of cancer and develop more effective treatments.
The short video below offers a look at the experiments, while the research was published in the journal Nature Materials.
Source: University of Minnesota