Biomechanical heterogeneity of cancer cells as a parameter for high throughput detectability

Despite enormous progress in cancer research leading to the identification of various key molecules and processes, cancer is still a leading cause of death worldwide. Most of cancer-related deaths are associated with the metastases that develop during years after primary tumour diagnosis. A huge number of mutations, accumulated over this time, leads to a considerable heterogeneity present in the structure, properties, and functioning of cells and affected organs. A severe consequence is that mechanisms discovered for one type of cancer may not necessarily be valid for others.

Knowledge gathered so far shows that the deformability of single cells can be directly linked with pathological changes. Thus, the biomechanical properties are potential non-labelled fingerprints of various diseases. A large degree of cancer cell heterogeneity in solid tumours (containing populations of cells with similar or nearly similar deformability) limits the identification of a specific population of cells forming metastasis. One of the obstacles is a lack of reliable, high-throughput devices that qualitatively and reliably can detect mechanically altered cells in biological samples characterized by a large degree of heterogeneity.

The idea of our project is to combine the microfluidic approach with atomic force microscopy (AFM) to enhance the identification of mechanically altered cells.

Scientific research is financed by the Norwegian Financial Mechanism for 2014–2021, National Science Center project no UMO-2019/34/H/ST3/00526 (GRIEG).