Mechanical properties of living cancer cells

During the last two decades, the mechanical properties of individual cells have been recognized and partially established as a quantitative measure of cellular deformability with potential use as a non-labelled biomarker of various pathologies, including cancer. Due to the technological advancements of techniques, it is possible to measure the mechanical properties of single cells, such as atomic force microscopy (AFM). Starting from the first AFM experiments by Lekka et al. in 1999 demonstrating large deformability of single cancerous cells, a large research data shows potential applications of AFM in oncology. Nevertheless, still, there is a challenge to use biomechanical markers for cancer tracking and diagnosis.

Comparison between non-metastatic and metastatic cell lines from different tissue types. Cancer cells are softer as compared to normal ones
(Lekka et al. Micron, 2012)

Beyond the doubt, the hypothesis that most cancer cells are softer than their normal cells seems to be well accepted and established. So far, research delivered data showing, on the one hand, the applicability of cellular mechanics as a biomarker of various pathological changes while, on the other hand, revealing the relative nature of cellular biomechanics. We aim to demonstrate the applicability of AFM and also to find correlations between biomechanics and structure and surface properties of cells.

Correlation between mechanical and surface properties of human bladder cancer cells studied by AFM and ToF SIMS techniques
(Bobrowska et al. Anal. Chem., 2019)

The example of such studies shows the correlation between the elasticity of human bladder cancer cells and their surface properties studied by time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF SIMS, Bobrowska et al. 2019).


  1. M.Lekka, P.Laidler, D.Gil, J.Lekki, Z.Stachura, A.Z.Hrynkiewicz – Elasticity of normal and cancerous human bladder cells studied by scanning force microscopy, Eur. Biophys. J. 28 1999, 312-316.
  2. M.Lekka, K.Pogoda, J.Gostek, O.Klymenko, Sz.Prauzner-Bechcicki, J.Wiltowska-Zuber, J.Jaczewska, J.Lekki, Z.Stachura – Cancer cell recognition – mechanical phenotype– Micron 43 (2012) 1259–1266.
  3. J. Bobrowska, K. Awsiuk, J. Pabijan, P. Bobrowski, J. Lekki, K.M. Sowa, J. Rysz, A. Budkowski, M. Lekka – Biophysical and Biochemical Characteristics as Complementary Indicators of Melanoma Progression – Anal. Chem., 91 (2019) 9885-9892.